Does a ban on plastic grocery bags really help the environment?

By Rob Nikolewski on October 6, 2012
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In the latest debate in “The City Different,” officials in Santa Fe are discussing whether to ban plastic carry-out bags from places such as grocery and retail stores.

A number of businesses in Santa Fe are pushing back, saying a ban will be too onerous.

But here’s another issue:

Does a ban really help the environment?

Great Britain is well-known for passing strict environmental measures but in 2006, its Environment Agency did a study on plastic carry-out bags (called “high-density polyethylene” or HDPE) compared to other bags that some shoppers carry that are made of paper, cotton or starch-polyester blends and came up with these conclusions:

* The reuse of conventional HDPE and other lightweight carrier bags for shopping and/or as bin-liners is pivotal to their environmental performance and reuse as bin liners produces greater benefits than recycling bags.

* Starch-polyester blend bags have a higher global warming potential and abiotic depletion than conventional polymer bags, due both to the increased weight of material in a bag and higher material production impacts.

* The paper, LDPE, non-woven PP and cotton bags should be resuded at least 3, 4, 11 and 131 times respectively to ensure that they have lower global warming potential than conventional HDPE carrier bags that are not reused …

*Recycling or composting generally produce only a small reduction in global warming potential and abiotic depletion.

Todd Myers of the free-market Washington Policy Center says plastic bag bans are more feel-good measures than real, concrete policies that help the environment, saying in a recent column in Real Clear Science that “few of these cities even attempt to assess the climate impact of switching from the least energy-intensive grocery bag to bags that use far more energy to produce.”

There’s been debate before the Santa Fe City Council about a plastic bag ban, with a “grocery bag task force” being formed, but so far no city council members have formally put forth an ordinance to be voted upon.

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6 Comments For This Post So Far

  1. Bill Hilbert
    8:28 am on October 7th, 2012

    Want to bet that the looney tunes in Santa Fe will ban the bags? Remember when they banned dogs from the square? I think that took care of the pet parade

  2. Enviro Equipment Blog
    1:00 pm on October 8th, 2012

    Rarely do environmental impact studies take into account the wide range of factors such as global warming, probably because politicians are usually far more concerned with placating the public with “feel good” laws rather than enacting those that actually have a positive impact on the environment.

  3. Thompson
    2:17 pm on October 14th, 2012

    Everyone should use reusable produce bags they are really strong and eco-friendly.

  4. Bill Turner
    4:10 pm on October 14th, 2012

    Well, I certainly don’t like seeing plastic bags blowing around in the wind. However, just think of the benefits of plastic bags. I use them for pack lunches when I brown bag it to work. And, I use them to pick dog shit in the dog parks. If more would practice this re-use philosophy we can save our forests and eliminate city spending on doggy dung bags. Let’s stop paying our public officials to spend their valuable time on such inane subjects.

  5. Plain Cotton Bags
    3:26 am on November 19th, 2013

    Ofcourse plastic is one of largest pollutant of environment being it in any form. Best not to use plastic bags. Always should avoid plastic bags to protect our environment

  6. Ethan Wright
    7:32 am on November 21st, 2013

    Plastic bags are harmful of environment….thats why its wright to ban the plastic bags.

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