The March 28 commentary “In praise of the city’s proposed plastic-bag ban” showed complete disregard for the facts.
Not only will a bag ban and tax be ineffective in helping us achieve our sustainability goals, it will actually hurt hardworking low- and middle-class families whose grocery bills are already too expensive and small businesses that will lose business to areas that don’t have a bag ban and tax.
When the truth about bag bans and taxes is examined, local governments around the country — from St. Louis Park to Martha’s Vineyard — realize that focusing on reuse and recycling is a much smarter approach for our environment.
First, it should be clear that plastic retail bags are a 100-percent recyclable, highly reused product that are made from American-made natural gas, not oil, and make up just 0.3 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. Moreover, the industry supports nearly 25,000 good-paying American recycling and manufacturing jobs in 344 plants across the U.S.
Second, more than 90 percent of Americans have access to plastic bag recycling at nearly 30,000 drop-off spots. There are dozens around the Twin Cities. We recently recycled more than a billion pounds of plastic in a year, a 74 percent jump from 2005 levels. The biggest reason why the plastic bag recycling rate isn’t higher is because they are reused so often. Whether it’s for storing items or picking up pet waste, more than 90 percent of people already reuse their plastic bags at least once.
Third, it is interesting to hear such environmentally conscious activists urge residents to use “sturdy reusable plastic” or “cloth” bags. They must know that most of the “sturdy reusable plastic bags” are made from oil and imported from China and can’t be recycled. And they must know that the standard reusable cotton bags must be used 131 times before the global warming impact is lower than a plastic bag used just once.
Finally, we agree with those who want to ban plastic bags that they should evaluate other cities that have attempted this policy change. They will find that Washington, D.C., didn’t make any environmental progress despite collecting roughly $10 million in taxes, and that a plastic bag ban in Austin, Texas, resulted in a surge of thick reusable plastic bags in their landfills. Other cities, like Dallas and Huntington Beach, Calif., recently repealed their bag regulations entirely.
When individuals take the time to consider the facts, they realize that focusing on banning plastic bags is not only a waste of time — when we can be working on bigger environmental issues — they result in unintended consequences. Encouraging plastic bag recycling and reuse is the most environmentally friendly solution.
Lee Califf is executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance.