Plastic Bags

Plastic Bag Bans Are in Retreat Across the Country

More and more states are rolling back their plastic bag bans, or preventing future ones from going into effect.


Plastic bags at work

Last week, little Kermit, near the New Mexico border in West Texas, became the last city in the state to repeal its sales tax on carryout shopping bags.

"I commend the Kermit City Council for its action to comply with state law," wrote Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been on a mission to rid Texas of illegal taxes and bans on bags, particularly plastic. "Cities and municipalities in Texas are obligated to follow the rule of law, and the Legislature passed a law that clearly prohibits a sales tax on bags."

"Customers were really excited," Dora Moreno, manager of Kermit's Family Dollar store told Reason. But there was widespread disappointment city hasn't yet rescinded its ban on plastic bags.

"They don't want to see the tax, they don't want the paper bags," Moreno said.

Given the current trend, customers in Kermit and across the country will be able once again to bring their groceries home in inexpensive bags provided by their merchants. A challenge to the legality of all local bag bans in the state has made its way to the Texas Supreme Court. State legislatures across the country are taking aggressive steps to roll back local bans.

In May the Minnesota legislature passed a state-wide preemption on bag bans, overturning Minneapolis's local prohibition. Iowa did the same in April, and over the past year, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana, have all passed restrictions on local governments banning and taxing bags.

"People are realizing that in a feel-good environment you can ban or tax anything," said Phil Rozenski, Senior Director of Sustainability for Novolex, a major plastics manufacturer. The discussion has now shifted to the actual effect of these bans.

"These bans were never about bags," says Rozenski, "they were about litter in the waste stream. Studies are showing negligible impact to litter."

San Francisco—the first city in the country to implement a plastic bag ban in 2007—actually saw the volume of plastic bags in litter increase. A 2015 study on Austin's plastic bag ban found that people merely switched from single-use plastic bags, to thicker, reusable, plastic bags which are arguably worse for the environment.

A big reason these bans have had such little effect on litter is plastic bags actually comprise a tiny fraction of all the waste produced by human society, something pointed out by Reason Editor-in-Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward in her defense of all things plastic.

"The 2009 Keep America Beautiful Survey," Mangu-Ward wrote, "shows that all plastic bags, of which plastic retail bags are only a subset, are just 0.6 percent of visible litter nationwide."

Bag banners completely missed the value of the bags in reducing the litter stream, "seeing it from the recycling perspective,"Moreno said. "A lot of people use them for trash bags, lot of people use them to carry their lunch."

In addition, there are economic costs of these policies, says Rozenksi. "It's the costs to jobs, the increased cost to retailers, the increased cost in taxes."

A wide-ranging study by the Reason Foundation (the non-profit which publishes this website) of the impact of plastic bag bans found that in Los Angeles County, retailers in areas that had banned plastic bags reduced their employment by 10 percent. Stores outside the ban area increased employment 2.4 percent.

In Texas, the Laredo Merchants Association last year filed suit alleging their city's bag ban violated a state law that says the city may not "prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law," or "assess a fee or deposit on the sale or use of a container or package."

A state appellate court has already sided with the merchants, and the State Attorney General has filed a brief in support as well. If the Supreme Court upholds the appellate court's judgement Texas will be the largest state to bag the bag bans.

That would be just fine with Moreno. "People don't like paper bags," she said. "I can relate."

NEXT: Attempted Coup in Venezuela, Sarah Palin Suing the Times, Facebook Hiring Thousands of Hate-Speech Monitors: A.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s all part of Trump’s plan to destroy the Earth! [hyperventilates into reusable Whole Foods sack]

    1. Reason‘s been in the pocket of Big Plastics for a while now.

      1. Big Plastic has this issue in the bag.

      2. Big Plastics was your mom’s stripper name.

        1. Also her vibrator’s name

    2. Said whole food sack probably made in china and full of various deadly chemicals.

  2. 1. plastic bags basically take up little space in a landfill
    2. if they litter your city, enforce your litter laws
    3. reuseable bags will kill you because you never wash them, admit it. and the trunk of your car is not sanitary.

    1. How is my reusable bag going to kill me when I properly wash and cook all my food and I keep raw meats in plastic bags instead. I like reusable bags because you can fit more in them and they won’t tear. My problem is that I forget to take them to the store half the time.

      1. If you truly liked them you wouldn’t forget them.

        1. Next up-progs will fine you for forgetting your reusable bags, on top of the tax for using plastic bags. That’s how these people think…

          1. If you do not bring reusable bags to the grocery, you will be fined and summarily executed.

            So goes the wish list of the average brainwashed leftist psycho. You can bet that is what the vast majority of them think is reasonable punishment.

            1. A couple of years ago, DC actually employed a “secret shopper” to rat out stores that did not charge the plastic bag tax.

              1. Bag Nazi. They come in all forms.

              2. Was the secret shopper a relative of a local politician by chance?

        2. if he was truly a guy he wouldn’t give a shit about bags.

          1. I don’t even know what that means…

            1. Guys use whatever fucking bags they feel like using! Is the point? I think? Maybe? let me ask someone.

            2. for a “some guy” you seem overly concerned about bags…more a chick thing?

              apologies if my camaraderie-via-joshing was too vague

          2. What about funbags?

            1. i’m more a legs type, but also stupid for forgetting funbags, yes

        3. If you truly liked them you wouldn’t forget them

          I mean, I like them, just not that much. I barely like them.

      2. and they won’t tear


        1. Plastic bags tear when you put something heavy and sharp in them. Canvas bags usually don’t.

          1. If it’s that heavy or sharp, carry it in your hand. Works for me.
            Bag the stuff that’s appropriate for bags! Plastic or not!

            Sort of like the time I bought a step ladder and dragged it over to the cashier…
            “No need for gift, wrap, ma’am,” I said… 😀

    2. 3. reuseable bags will kill you because you never wash them, admit it. and the trunk of your car is not sanitary.

      I’d love to see the research of deaths from food poisoning derived from unhygienic car trunks vs. unhygienic production practices.

      For quite some time, food has been generally pretty incapable of killing you and, even before then, dirt isn’t as inherently toxic as we’ve been made to believe. Neither of which says anything about people’s desire to return to practices when food and water was frequently contaminated with toxins and/or people’s general health was so poor that soil microbes could generally be life-threatening.

      1. Food poisoning, although not always fatal, is still a leading cause of ER visits.

        The catch is food-borne pathogens can cross-contaminate when you put something you aren’t going to cook thoroughly, like a loaf of bread, in a bag that used to have, say, raw chicken.

      2. Salmonella or E. coli contaminates the bags. Plastic ones get tossed so no harm. Reusable ones don’t, so if you don’t keep the bag clean the bad stuff is waiting and festering for your next shopping trip. The science is settled. The only question is what’s the over/under before food poisoning stories experience a notable uptick?

        1. The science is settled.

          Progs put science up to a vote. Kinda like the church did, which makes you wonder why progs are so anti-Christian.

        2. I recycle all my used plastic bags back to local grocery stores’ bins.
          Don’t you?
          Why not?
          Too much work?

      3. Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags:

        The purpose of this study was to assess the potential for cross-contamination of food products by reusable bags used to carry groceries. Reusable bags were collected at random from consumers as they entered grocery stores in California and Arizona. In interviews, it was found that reusable bags are seldom if ever washed and often used for multiple purposes. Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half. Escherichia coli were identified in 8% of the bags, as well as a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens. When meat juices were added to bags and stored in the trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria increased 10-fold, indicating the potential for bacterial growth in the bags. Hand or machine washing was found to reduce the bacteria in bags by > 99.9%. These results indicate that reusable bags, if not properly washed on a regular basis, can play a role in the cross-contamination of foods. It is recommended that the public be educated about the proper care of reusable bags by means of printed instructions on the bags or through public service announcements.

        1. OK, great. Now show me the study where the car trunks themselves were examined.

          Salmonella or E. coli contaminates the bags. Plastic ones get tossed so no harm. Reusable ones don’t, so if you don’t keep the bag clean the bad stuff is waiting and festering for your next shopping trip.

          I don’t disagree with the notion of the bags being contaminated. I disagree with the notion that my food gets contaminated because of my trunk. If I spill food contaminates in my car, I clean it up lest it smell like a salmonella culture. The stuff I’d leave in my trunk would be either innocuous to beneficial with regard to sanitation, impossible to reasonably clean up (or impossibly easy) or both; softener or driveway salt, play sand, windex, bleach, gasoline, motor oil, rubbing alcohol, etc. Moreover, while the beef blood that warmed to body temperature in my hot trunk for two hours could conceivably find its way into the kitchen, the blood in the trunk (assuming I didn’t notice it and clean it up) is going to bake in my hot trunk for probably another 3 days before it gets a fine coat of softener salt or lime. There is no 5s rule. There isn’t even exactly a 5 min. rule. It’s more like a 5000s at room temperature rule.

    3. They do play havoc in the ocean life.

  3. I remember when paper bags were replaced by plastic in order to save the trees. These enviroMENTALists just can’t make up their fucking minds.

    1. None of it was ever about saving the planet. It was always about signalling how very woke we are.

      My city has a ban in the pipeline – hopefully it dies there.

        1. BAN CITIES! They are just a white mans way of keeping people in little areas.

      1. Ban-transporting pipelines are a scourge that needs to be stopped, for the environment. One leak and suddenly nothing is permissible.

        1. All this and don’t forget that the deep seated motive behind all environmentalism is Marxism. These ignorant smug assholes really hate all for-profit business. They think capitalism is the scourge of the earth.

          Not one of them will explore the fact that only the few actual capitalist leaning countries left on earth are the ones that are actually environmentally concerned. – no matter how much of a scam the whole charade has been proven to be.

          You cannot un-brainwash people until; the whole socialist scam collapses. Venezuelans are starting to become un brainwashed. It usually takes misery and death to make said ignorant smug imbeciles question there religion.

        2. I think the proliferation of bans on just about anything usable or enjoyable is a direct result of over-educated proggies having too much time on their hands-so they start a blog about how they don’t like something and the government needs to take action against it because it offends them. These tend to start in college towns where there is a critical mass of like-minded proggies (Berkeley, Cambridge,) and the local government doesn’t have much else to do with their time. The bans soon spread to large cities controlled by progs like Seattle, NYC, and Chicago, and eventually whole states. But what really drives bans is the narcissism of prog aesthetics.

  4. PA’s Democratic governor vetoed a local pre-emption bill this month. Ostensibly because it was a gift to the plastic bag manufacturer in the state. But actually because he needs the tree hugger vote for next year.

    1. I would think a dem could get away with vetoing a plastic bag ban, I mean what are the greenies going to do, vote republican? And PA went for Trump.

  5. The discussion has now shifted to the actual effect of these bans.

    That’s just crazy talk. Everyone knows the *intent* of these bans is what’s important.

  6. Total effect on litter is _not_ a great argument against a sales tax on plastic bags.

    In any event, the real issue isn’t the sales tax, its the ban – and the requirement that places use paper (rips, super irritating, etc.), but I have no issue with grocery stores selling the reusable grocery bags to customers who don’t want to pay the 5c tax or whatever it is.

  7. “A 2015 study on Austin’s plastic bag ban found that people merely switched from single-use plastic bags, to thicker, reusable, plastic bags which are arguably worse for the environment.”

    This wording is a bit awkward. To be clear, people here in Austin switched from regular plastic bags (often reused to clean up after dogs) to reusable plastic bags that must have five times as much plastic in them and which are too big and awkward to reuse, so they throw them away after a single use and then buy small flimsy plastic bags for pet cleanup.

    1. According to KMW’s Reason piece, it is 11X more plastic. So you have to use each bag 11 times before it could possibly be considered environmentally neutral to regular plastic bags.

      1. In my household, we’d have to use each reusable bag at least 20 times for break even. That’s because we reuse free plastic bags as liners in waste baskets in the house, picking up dog poop, and various other purposes.

        If the EPA ever got something right, it was their order of preference in waste optimization:
        #1 Reduce
        #2 Reuse
        #3 Recycle

        Despite what most simple-minded greenies think, recycling is #3 and is, in fact, worse than nothing with some materials. They’d probably achieve better results in minimizing waste with a purely voluntary program to encourage consumers to decline a bag if it is used to carry just one or two articles. But, of course, coercion is what they’re all about.

        1. Expanding on this a little is a brilliant case study on Aldi and their ways of cutting costs, and subsequent undercutting big box grocery. One way they do this is by not providing bags, which of course probably saves them millions of dollars annually as a company, which they use to undercut prices on big box grocers. People become very inventive and use in-store packaging (boxes) and/or bring their own bags from home.

          This is a case of a market-based approach to reducing waste (preference #1 from EPA). The primary method is through reuse of shipping boxes or reusable bags (preference #2).

          I certainly don’t think plastic bags are the end of the world, but here is an example where the market works best and consumers benefit.

  8. The thing i hate most about plastic bag bans and the tax is that people bring their own assortment of bags to the store and the poor clerks have to waste time figuring out how to use them and what order. When you use the standard store bags the bagger has a pattern of loading them. Time cost money and I hate the self rightius people who keep brining crap bags into the stores

    1. That is just big business propaganda. If the store just paid those baggers $15 per hour everything would be utopia.

    2. We’re talking about maybe 3 seconds lost while they take your bag and fill it and since we’ll mostly be dealing with self-help machines going forward anyway, I won’t be losing any sleep over this.

      1. That is 3 seconds he could use looking at his phone.

    3. The Kroger near me has actual mentally retarded people bagging the groceries, and they don’t have any problem figuring out the reusable bags.

      1. The retards aren’t in the union.

        1. That is not nice so fuck you.

    4. Poor union grocery baggers.

  9. “These bans were never about bags,” says Rozenski, “they were about litter in the waste stream. Studies are showing negligible impact to litter.”

    Horse shit, they were about revenue for the city. Here in Dallas County they instituted one of these so-called ‘bag bans’ and you know what? They weren’t banned at all. They were simply taxed for about the worth of the bag itself. If it were a bag ban there wouldn’t be any at all.

    If they really gave a shit about the ‘environmental impact’ they would provide decent recycling services, and that’s pretty much the end of the story.

    1. Here in NYC they’re trying to mandate a fee on plastic bags & the fee goes to the store owner, not the city.

      It’s still BS. Just like the 5 cent bottle deposit. Which has accomplished little except raising an army of scavengers to tear through your garbage looking for bottles and cans.

      1. Didn’t Governor Cuomo shoot that down -largely because, according to him, we can’t have the money going to the store owners? Tho’ I don’t believe he clarified why that was problematic, esp since the store owner is the one buying the bags to start with. If I understand correctly, he is now working out a way to extend it statewide…

  10. The amount of landfill space taken up by a plastic grocery bag is MINUSCULE. There’s virtually no material in them (try weighing one on a kitchen scale). The local bag tax ordinance here that was preempted by Michigan’s state law would have taxed plastic and paper bags alike. The reason, of course, is the county was after the tax revenues and wanted to make sure people couldn’t switch to paper.

    I was just a little disappointed that the tax was overturned though. My plan was to order a bunch of these, leave them in the trunk and hand a few to the baggers in the store:

    I can just imagine the death stares I would have gotten at the Ann Arbor Whole Foods. Would’ve been fun.

  11. A content free argument. Tiny examples from hicksville Texas and 2015 anchedotes from San Francisco. Cite some actual data and studies please, arm waving is kind of useless.

    1. If the government doesn’t cite actual data and studies when instituting the taxes/bans, why put that burden on the people advocating for ending them?

    2. Here’s some actual data. 99% of people who are not morons and have a mind of their own think that statements like yours are content free arm waving.

  12. Once again, Kermit learns that it isn’t easy being green.

    I can’t believe nobody else has said that already.

  13. What is the libertarian position on higher levels of government overriding lower levels of government? I keep forgetting.

    1. whichever lowers the government burden on the individual

  14. Why do libertarians love everything that causes cancer?
    Nuclear power plants, fracking, pesticides and yes plastic bags.
    Dioxin is a known human carcinogen and the most potent synthetic carcinogen ever tested in laboratory animals. A characterization by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of cancer causing potential evaluated dioxin as over 10,000 times more potent than the next highest chemical (diethanol amine), half a million times more than arsenic and a million or more times greater than all others. 2009/08/090820-plastic-decomposes-oceans-seas.html
    From NCBI report:
    It is time to rethink the current management model of the production and disposal of plastics and to move towards a model that considers the entire life-cycle of these abundant, essential materials. Disposal of plastics in landfills ultimately is unsustainable and diminishes land resources fit for other uses of higher societal value. Incineration results in the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas [7], and of other air pollutants, including carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) [8] and dioxins [9]. pmc/articles/PMC3791860/
    Perhaps there are some very good Libertarian concepts but mainly it seems to be about the ‘liberty’ of corporations to destroy the planet.

    1. Can you please provide references to nuclear power plants harming anything or anyone in the U.S.A.

      1. … or fracking, pesticides or dioxins.

      2. … or fracking, pesticides or dioxins.

    2. Plastic can be recycled, libertarians would not object to that because people can make pant-loads of money supplying recycled plastics to people like you who believe in recycling. And really, nobody wants to destroy the planet, now do they? Even EEEEvil corporations want to be able to keep on selling stuff at obscenely high prices to people who want to pay for them, unless they don’t want to and then eeevil corporations will do what the people want. Have you actually informed yourself about the many corporations who are going “green” in every way they can and actually invst in research on renewables? Guess who spends the most on thst ? Exxon and the eeeeevil fossil fuel companies, because they are, like ENERGY companies, and they want to be in on anything that greenies want to pay for, even if that (gasp) benefits “the planet” . Which of course expresses its gratitude through comments like this one.

    3. Why do libertarians love everything that causes cancer?

      Why do you ask this question when you really mean “I know libertarians are wrong and I can prove they are by demonstrating that plastic kills people.”

      I mean I could ask you similar(ly idiotic) questions, “If plastics are so dangerous, why aren’t you removing peoples’ plastic stints and IV bags?”

    4. mainly it seems to be about the ‘liberty’ of corporations to destroy the planet.

      If you believe that government protects you from corporations, I suggest that you avoid learning where corporations come from. It would make your head assplode.


  15. The Russians are behind our plastic bag use.

    Eamergeancy! Eamergeancy! Everybody to get from street!!

  16. Both sides have trade-offs but I believe in free choice on this matter. . Some damn survey may have shown that plastic bags only make up .00001% of landfill, but just drive cross west Texas. All you see are plastic grocery bags stuck on barbed wire all along the freeways. They get blown around and stuck in trees too, there’s even a name for them : witches’ britches. I started using cloth bags when Canadian stores started charging 5 cents a bag. At least then I could buy one if I forgot my own. I like my own bags, they do hold more and they have stronger handles and they’re a lot stronger than grocery bags. In Walmart where the bags are so thin they break, I have Walmart bag my stuff and then I put it into my bags – it keeps my own bags cleaner.

  17. Most of these changes represents abolition of local laws in favor of statewide laws. Not sure that aspect is anything to celebrate.

  18. I use and dispose of plastic bags liberally… they are great for carbon sequestration and reducing climate change!

  19. I like paper bags! They stand up better. I’m well-aware that paper bags are much worse for the environment, involved the cutting down of trees, chemical processing, lots of energy to make, much heavier to transport, and so forth. Same with paper cups. Plastic cups are much better for the environment. Which bag I prefer depends on what I’m carrying and what I’ll use it for, next, if I have the option.
    The real question is, why should be listen to politicians on this issue? Aren’t they among the most wasteful people in the world? Let consumers choose.

  20. What I’ve noticed about the retailers that have recently, voluntarily moved to paper bags is that they typically give you a small paper bag for a small purchase.

    We use the plastic bags mostly for garbage or dog poop.

  21. CA will ban plastic bags until the last Pelican dies……or…..
    If it moves, tax it;
    If it keeps moving, regulate it;
    If it stops moving, subsidize it!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.