California Plastic Bag Bans Spur 120 Percent Increase in Sales of Thicker Plastic Garbage Bags

A new study says plastic bag bans encourage people to use less eco-friendly substitutes.


Emilija Miljkovic Ivkovic/Dreamstime.com

In March, New York became the second state to ban plastic bags—behind California, which banned them in 2016. Countless cities, towns, and counties have also either prohibited plastic bags or imposed fees or other restrictions on their use.

As always, New York's ban was justified as a way to protect the environment. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared that it will "reduce litter in our communities, protect our water and create a cleaner and greener New York for all."

Or maybe it won't. Far from weening us off hazardous single-use plastics, these bans may actually be encouraging people to instead use thicker garbage bags or other less-than-green alternatives.

So says a study from the University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor. She looked at retail scanner data on the purchase of garbage bags in cities before and after they implemented their bag bans. She found that while plastic bag bans got rid of their target, they did not eliminate people's need for plastic bags in general: They still needed something to line their garbage cans or pick up after their pets. Prior to bag bans, this could mean just reusing the bags you carried your groceries home in. After the bans, folks turned to purchasing garbage bags, which are much more plastic-intensive.

They bought lot of them. Taylor's study found that after the imposition of a bag ban, sales of small garbage bags (defined as 4-gallon-sized bags) increased by a full 120 percent, medium garbage bags (8 gallons) by 64 percent, and tall bags (13 gallons) by 6 percent.

The result? There was a 40 million pound drop in the consumption of normal carryout bags, but the consumption of garbage bags rose by 12 million pounds, erasing about 30 percent of the gains from the bag ban.

This unintended consequence is reminiscent of coffee chain Starbucks' attempt to cut down on plastic usage by replacing the traditional lid/straw combo that tops many of their cold drinks with new strawless lids. The trouble, as Reason first reported, is that the new lids weighed more, meaning that Starbucks' shift has resulted in the company using more plastic.

Taylor's findings are not so damning for plastic bag bans on that front. Overall plastic consumption is still coming down.

But Taylor's study also notes that many non-plastic replacements for traditional plastic grocery bags can in fact be far worse when considering their impact on climate change. "To have the same global warming potential as a traditional plastic carryout bag with zero secondary use, a paper carryout bag would need to be used 3 times, a non-woven polypropylene (PP) reusable bag would need to be used 11 times, and a cotton reusable bag would need to be used 131 times," she writes.

All prohibitions have unintended consequences, and that includes prohibiting plastic products.

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  1. ""California Plastic Bag Bans Spur 120 Percent Increase in Sales of Thicker Plastic Garbage Bags""

    I'm not surprised. Since I reuse my plastic bags from the store as garbage bags, I will have to purchase the thicker garbage bags for my garbage.

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  2. exactly ^^^ little Kroger bags are perfect for trash ... I haven't paid Hefty for anything but leaf bags in 20 years and even that makes me feel weird - who puts earth in plastic bags?

    1. Ditto. Being single I never needed massive family sized garbage bags. Those Safeway plastic bags were perfect for me. I saved them, I reused them, but not once did I fucking dump them in the ocean. But now with the bag ban I can't do that. The bag ban has me buying garbage bags.

      1. Or you could just move to a non-communist state...

  3. Here in northern CA, the Home Depot staff told me there are a lot of people who use self-checkout and put each item in its own disposable plastic bag. The ban on plastic bags was only for grocery stores, so Home Depot can give away as many as they want. Same applies to Kmart, Target, Wal-Mart, auto parts stores, every kind of store other than grocery stores. (I do not know what this means for Wal-Marts with groceries.)

    Plus, because people have to pay a dime for the grocery store plastic bags and would be more than a little resentful of getting the same cheap disposable bag for that dime, the ones they sell now are much thicker than necessary, rationalized as being re-usable. But people don't very much.

    1. What are you trying to accomplish with the plastic bag ban?

      1. more good feelz...

      2. Control over the population

      3. Me?!? Assuming you mean "they", it is just the good feelz that is the usual fare for the ctrl-left.

      4. "What are you trying to accomplish with the plastic bag ban?"

        1. More control over the masses.
        2. Show the world just how insane California is becoming.

    2. That's what happened when Chicago banned plastic bags. The idea was to make stores give re-usable bags, but since the stores still just gave them away people still treated them as disposable

    3. I do not know what this means for Wal-Marts with groceries.
      I was in Cerritos a couple years ago. The Target had groceries and no bags.

    4. The Dallas bag ban allowed for plastic bags, but they had to be heavy enough to be reusable, have a company logo on the side, and charge five cents for them. This was immediately challenged in a lawuit claiming (among other things) that it discriminated against small business that couldn't economically purchase the bags. It was repealed before the lawsuit proceeded.

      Laredo took it to court and lost to the Texas Supremes.

  4. Yeah, but when you focus on unintended consequences like this, it's harder to get people to support using government coercion for all the other stuff we want to do to save the environment. So, if we could just pretend this never happened, that'd be great.

    Fake News!

  5. I used to use grocery bags for the litter box. Now I have to buy them. Oddly, the cheapest bags at the store are not the smallest ones, so I'm using these giant trash bags now and generating way more plastic waste than before.

  6. Maybe those doomsday preppers are really onto something!

  7. i would say it's an unintended consequence but it was SO FUCKING OBVIOUS this was going to be an outcome.

    /palms forehead

  8. They're easy to push, because people don't care that much about actually solving the problem, they want to put a bandaid on things so they do the most obvious thing to them.

  9. All prohibitions have unintended consequences

    If someone would just pass a law banning unintended consequences, this wouldn't be a problem.

  10. TOP WOMEN fail again.

    1. Ha-ha!

  11. Next ban for California: exhaling.

    1. It would cut CO2 emissions.

    2. But you can still inhale, right? right?

    3. Can we make this a real thing? Please?

  12. Well the study indicates the net use of plastic decreased. The study does not consider the effects of plastic getting into the imprisonment and oceans

  13. The only intended consequence was for politicians to point and say "I did this". No other consequence matters.

    The importation of a gazillion allegedly reusable ''sort of fabric bags' from China only inadvertently polluted the earth with formaldehyde.

    1. This was passed by proposition in CA.....the voters imposed this on themselves....really dumb.

    2. This was passed by proposition in CA.....the voters imposed this on themselves....really dumb.

    3. This was passed by proposition in CA.....the voters imposed this on themselves....really dumb.

    4. This was passed by proposition in CA.....the voters imposed this on themselves....really dumb.

    5. This was passed by proposition in CA.....the voters imposed this on themselves....really dumb.

    6. This was passed by proposition in CA.....the voters imposed this on themselves....really dumb.

    7. This was passed by proposition in CA.....the voters imposed this on themselves....really dumb.

      1. It's like the squirrels stepped in front of an infinity mirror.

        1. They are from Chicago. This is what one vote looks like to them.

  14. Just because a consequence was unexpected does not mean it wasn't intended.

    The intention of banning plastic bags was to get people to use alternatives. That people are using alternatives is indeed intentional. If the fucking nannies wanted people to use hemp then they should have fucking mandated the use of hemp ! But they didn't because they knew that mandating hemp wasn't as political viable.

    Yes, I'm aware that the leftie nannies did not actually intend people to use garbage bags instead. But they most certainly did intend people to use alternatives. That they never bothered to consider what those obvious alternatives would be just means they're stupid along with being evil.

    I think the term to be used here is not "unintended consequence", but rather "disregard for what form the consequences may take". Because even a cursory look at the alternatives would have pointed to plastic garbage bags.

    1. So we change the headline? "Garbage law results in more garbage bags in landfills"?

    2. Growing hemp is still illegal in most states, so that wasn't a probable outcome. Would be interesting to see the numbers on degradability of hemp bags vs plastic and if that lowered the cost of landfills enough to make it financially viable. At some point the landfills are going to be the oil wells of the future...

      Unintended consequences is the correct and commonly used term.

  15. This study may not even take into account the $0.10 bags purchased at the checkout. I would say that 2/3 of the customers just buy those bags while the rest have reusable bags that they bring. These bags are also plastic and deemed reusable and are like 4 times thicker and somewhat larger than the banned ones.

    What I do is bring the traditional plastic grocery bags (the banned ones) that I bought on Ebay for like $0.02/piece.

    1. I see an arbitrage opportunity. Most grocery stores aren't going to say crap is you run off with a stack of bags...

    2. 2 cents each eh?

      A hundred bucks could mess up a looot of beach over there.

    3. So a lemonade stand outside the grocery stores that puts the lemonade into a stack of 10 grocery bags, priced at $2.50?

  16. Shockingly enough, the demand still exists, further confounding stupid politicians.

  17. Shocked I tell you. SHOCKED!

    And I bet you the ones buying those thicker bags were okay when the plastic bag ban was introduced.

    Banning things we find useful is just about the unwisest and counter productive thing you can do.

  18. The plastic vs paper bag stats are interesting. So the environmental impact of re-using plastic grocery bags (who doesn't?) is significantly less than all alternatives.

    Well, I'll stick with the plastic bags then.

  19. they eliminated the plastic so now I have to use two paper bags for every plastic one I used to use for my trash and recycling and teh few plastic ones I get I save for kitchen linens.

  20. Look man, obviously these people are stupid. So now we have to ban garbage bags. Which is fine - there's nothing wrong with you washing out your kitchen trash can once every quarter (there's a drought on, you know).

    1. No, that damned law of unintended consequences will just rear it's ugly head again. Maybe it will be garbage in the streets, or people burning garbage in their backyards, but people will find a way to thwart the next law too.

      1. Take your garbage and dump it on the mayor's lawn.

  21. These bags are a blight. Ban them all.

  22. Typical. Feel-good busybodies seldom look past their emotions and take no responsibility for the unintended consequences of their actions. They see pictures of sea animals ingesting plastic bags or straws and immediately move to ban the items without considering that in the US all refuse is buried, not dumped into the ocean. The source of most of the ocean pollution comes from the undeveloped countries where they dump their refuse into the ocean. If they really wanted to improve the state of pollution in the ocean, they would work to build up the standard of living in poor countries so they can afford to properly dispose of their trash.

    1. Or maybe take all their plastic and make plastic trash cans and send them to China and ask them to please put them on their beaches and empty them once in a while. Maybe San Francisco could take the lead in this.

  23. Criticizing environmental policy on efficiency grounds is like criticizing communion wafers on nutritional grounds.

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  25. In Europe they're going to biodegradable bags.

  26. Worked in an adult day care for a couple of years. We used to go to the local Kroger and pick up the bags they had collected to recycle because they were used to dispose of the adult diapers. Government regulation required they be bagged before we disposed of them.

  27. Environmentalism in California should just be referred to as Mentalism. When they were selling the bag ban to the sheep, they referred to the plastic bags as "single use". They were either lying or they are morons. You decide. I have never bought a pkg. of 4 gal. plastic bags before the ban and now I buy them all the time for the cat's litter box, wastebaskets etc. For those of you not in Cali. the bags given at store checkouts now are called "reusable", made of stiff, THICK plastic and are very hard to twist and tie in a knot like the thin ones. Most people with a brain saw this increase is buying bags from a hundred miles away.

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  29. They should be banned. States, cities, towns all the right to implement such legislation. people can also find solutions to make garbage bags more environmentally friendly... for example, they are making sturdy, biodegradable garbage cans. You guys act like this is some travesty or something, it’s

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