Study: Banning Plastic Grocery Bags Does Not Cut Disposal Costs

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

Source: Heartlander

Banning plastic grocery bags does not reduce disposal and recycling costs, a study of several U.S. cities shows.

Consumers choose plastic bags far more often than paper or reusable bags to carry their purchases. Compared to paper and reusable bags, plastic bags are lightweight, strong, flexible, and moisture-resistant. In addition, they are easy to store and reusable for multiple purposes. Many studies have demonstrated previously overlooked health and environmental benefits of plastic grocery bags, such as their ability to prevent spread of foodborne diseases.

Despite these characteristics and their popularity, a growing number of municipalities and some states are enacting laws aimed at reducing the use of plastic (and sometimes paper) grocery bags. The laws range from taxes to outright bans.

Advocates have given a number of justifications for placing restrictions on consumers’ use of carry-out plastic bags. These include concerns about resources used to create the bags, environmental harms when they are disposed of improperly, the visible blight of roadside litter, and the cost of disposing or recycling them.

The National Center for Policy Analysis studied plastic grocery bag bans in several cities to determine whether the bans fulfilled promises to reduce litter collection and waste disposal costs. The data show cities enacting bans and restrictions on plastic grocery bags experience either no reduction or an increase in litter collection and waste disposal costs.