Better Alternative To Bag Bans
by Ronnie Volkening
March 13, 2014
Source: Dallas Morning News
We were disappointed to read the newspaper's editorial supporting a Dallas bag ban ["Ban the Plastic Bag - Dallas council should take step for cleaner city," Sunday Points].
Not only does the Texas Retailers Association oppose bag bans, we also take issue with several of the conclusions in the editorial.
While we agree with the statement that plastic bags are not free, the fact is that these complimentary bags are provided by retailers, as they have been for generations, for their customers' convenience.
Many readers may not realize that, in the 1980s, plastic bags became the environmentally desirable alternative to paper bags for reasons that still hold true today. For example:
- Paper bags require nearly four times more energy to produce than plastic bags.
- Paper bags are seven times heavier and take up seven times more space.
- Paper requires 91 percent more energy to recycle than plastic.
- Paper bags require 25 times more water to produce than plastic bags.
A study by the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis of six cities with plastic bag bans, including Austin and Brownsville, found: "The alternatives - paper bags and reusable bags - use more energy, use more resources, produce more greenhouse gases and produce more waste and pollution than plastic grocery bags."
The editorial also said: "Concern that a ban will cause shoppers to take their business to the suburbs appears overblown. City officials in Austin and Seattle report no significant impact on business."
It's not surprising that city officials who supported a bag ban would not be inclined to report negative consequences. NCPA's 2012 study of the effects of a ban in Los Angeles County indicated that 60 percent of stores outside the ban area reported an increase in sales, averaging 9 percent. Eighty percent of the stores inside the ban area reported a decrease in sales, averaging -5.7 percent.
We also disagree with the editorial's assertion that "the likelihood that existing recycling programs would disappear isn't worrisome since so many bags would disappear with them."
Dallas-area retailers incurred considerable expense to establish recycling programs and to educate customers to "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle." These programs may not be sustainable if a ban is adopted.
We also question whether "so many bags would disappear." Consider that the Austin ordinance does not ban:
- Laundry bags, newspaper bags, restaurant bags, door hangers and others specifically exempted.
- Bread bags, ice bags, shrink wrap and other plastic bags in which manufacturers wrap their products.
The Texas Retailers Association believes more comprehensive alternatives exist. Consider:
- A TRA-sponsored Reduce, Reuse and Recycle pilot study resulted in a 20 percent reduction in plastic bag usage, a 74 percent increase in recycled plastic bags and more than 907,000 reusable bags sold at participating stores. TRA also created A Bag's Life website with a ZIP code directory to direct residents to stores with recycling bins.
- The yellow bag program run by the city of Georgetown and Texas Disposal Systems provides residents with special bags that they can fill with plastic bags and pitch into the city's single-stream recycling bins.
- Iowa's Build With Bags program encourages residents to recycle plastic bags with local retailers and awards grants to schools and parks for picnic tables, benches and other products made from recycled bags. After four years, the program has awarded more than $150,000 to more than 100 schools and parks and diverted tons of plastic bags from landfills.
These examples illustrate thoughtful and comprehensive opportunities to work collaboratively to address this issue. TRA and its member companies remain committed to working together to implement solutions that achieve mutually shared goals while avoiding harmful and unintended consequences.
Ronnie Volkening is president and CEO of the Texas Retailers Association.