The Two Sides of The Plastic Bag Ban Debate

The Two Sides of The Plastic Bag Ban DebateA Closer Look at The Pros and Cons of the Plastic Bag Ban Debate 

In the last few years, disposable plastic bag bans are popping up all over the place. There is a strong movement to restrict the use of single-use plastic bags, but at the same time, there are groups fighting to stave off these measures. Lots of problems are blamed on plastic bags, but they seem pretty harmless.

This is an issue we’ve tackled a few times before, but since it’s been a while we wanted to get a fresh take. We decided to look at both sides of the argument to better understand the two sides of the plastic bag ban debate.

The Arguments For a Disposable Plastic Bag Ban

All too often single-use plastic bags end up as litter. By banning plastic bags, it is possible to cut off the problem at the source. Litter is a problem partly because it is just ugly to look at; bags become tangled in trees and plants and float down streets like tumbleweed. Discarded plastic bags can also cause trouble for municipalities between the time and cost of cleaning up the actual litter or cleaning up the mess caused by litter when plastic bags clog drainage systems.

All litter is a threat to wildlife, but disposable plastic bag litter causes a lot of harm. It is far too easy for marine animals, in particular, to become tangled in the thin plastic bags. When this happens the animals may be left defenseless and unable to protect and provide for themselves and their young.

If animals consume plastic bags the end result is likely death. The plastic can clog or become tangled in the animal’s digestive system, or toxins from the plastic can leach into the animal’s tissue, and introduce the toxins into the food chain.

The Role of Nonrenewable Resources

Single-use plastic bags are made from natural gas and petroleum; both of which are nonrenewable resources. As nonrenewable resources, there is a limited supply. There is enough of a supply of these materials that we could probably continue manufacturing disposable plastic bags for many years to come, but that doesn’t mean we should. There are lots of other items that can be made using these resources, so when petroleum and natural gas are used to create plastic bags it’s wasteful.

Typically, disposable plastic bags are used for about 20 minutes, so that means these nonrenewable resources are only useful for about 20 minutes and that’s it. From there most bags are destined to be carted off to a landfill where they will sit forever. There are other long-lasting applications that are a better use of these resources.

To further compound this wastefulness, disposable plastic bags are recyclable, but only a small percentage of plastic bags are recycled. There are several contributing factors to these low recycling rates. It is hard for shoppers to know where to recycle their old plastic bags. Most curbside recycling programs do not accept disposable plastic bags.

Many grocery stores have collection bins to accept these bags for recycling, but there isn’t a lot of outreach around the availability of these bins, so they are not very successful. The process of recycling these thin film plastic bags is difficult. The bags easily become tangled and stuck in the machines and this leads to a lot of down time while the plastic bags are removed.

The Argument Against a Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic bags make it easy to haul items home from the store. The bags are relatively strong, and the plastic material contains spills or condensation. The lightweight structure makes it easy for shoppers to carry their purchases without adding much additional weight.

Disposable plastic bags are also inexpensive, making it easy for retailers to stock up on these bags. Retailers pass the expense of these bags along to their customers; the cost of the bags along with the businesses other operational costs are worked into the pricing structure. Shoppers ultimately pay for single-use plastic bags, but the expense of plastic bags does not significantly increase the price shoppers pay at the checkout. Additionally, many times municipalities offer free bags to lower income individuals. 

Solutions to the Plastic Bag Ban Debate

Disposable plastic bags are responsible for a lot of environmental harm, and for many the convenience is just not worth all of the resulting trouble. What do you think?

The bag ban movement is quickly growing. California has already banned single-use plastic shopping bags and more states will be sure to follow. If you want to learn more about the movement around the plastic bag ban movement check out our interactive map!

A plastic bag ban creates an increased demand for reusable shopping bags, and this creates an opportunity for businesses to help their clients along with the planet, while they also promote their brand.

Retailers and marketers create your custom reusable bag by filling out a quote request or contacting us today.

2 thoughts on “The Two Sides of The Plastic Bag Ban Debate”

  • mike we

    i wasn't sure about Austin's city-wide ban a couple or so years ago . . . but i soon became a believer. within a very few months after it passed, the difference was obvious. undeveloped lots/areas w/small trees or shrubs no longer were covered w/ plastic 'flags' adorning branches. after a couple/three years it's rare. it took awhile, but i'm used to making sure i've got whatever bag(s) i need w/me when i go to a grocery store. i keep a small stash in the car, just in case. go ahead, ban 'em. you'll LIKE it.

    Reply
    • Shane Shirley, CMO
      Shane Shirley, CMO January 4, 2017 at 8:37 am

      Hi Mike and thanks so much for taking the time to weigh in on this debate. I think two things stand out in your comment that are important for folks to remember: there was an obvious difference after the ban passed as far as plastic bag litter and it took a while, but now you are used to making sure you have the bags you need when you go to the store. It is awesome to hear first-hand how the bag ban in Austin has been a positive and easy to get used to. It sounds like you are actually pleased now to be a part of the solution.

      Thanks again Mike for your comment. Have an awesome, bag free 2017!

      Best,
      Shane

      Reply

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