Plastic Bag Ban or Fee: A Lose-Lose Scenario For City

by Lee Califf

Source: Sioux City Journal

Sioux City officials continue to contemplate an ordinance on plastic retail bags. Following a survey of local residents and businesses conducted over the summer, the City Council will soon consider a proposal to ban their use in stores completely.

There is unquestionably a role for government in pursuing environmental goals, but it’s important that policy decisions are grounded in facts and science – especially when those decisions have a significant impact on local residents. Unfortunately, this debate is all too often shaped by myths and misperceptions that limit communities’ ability to implement truly sustainable solutions.

Sioux City’s residents, business owners and local leaders are fortunate to live in a prosperous community, benefiting from a low cost of living and one of the strongest business climates in the country. Part of maintaining and enhancing that prosperity means keeping the city’s natural landscape and streets litter free.

But whether through a ban or fee, legislation targeting plastic retail bags will have a negligible impact on reducing Sioux City’s litter or waste. Plastic bags represent a miniscule portion of the American municipal waste stream (0.4 percent) and traditionally less than one percent of litter in states and cities where the issue has been studied. In Iowa, plastic retail bags make up a mere 0.3 percent of landfill waste – the same percentage as Halloween pumpkin waste.

Of course it’s true that, like many products, plastic bags can be an environmental challenge if disposed of improperly. The plastic bag industry is acutely aware of this concern – it is a concern we share and have been deeply committed to addressing. We have invested millions into plastic bag recycling technology and partnered with retailers across the country to make recycling widely accessible.

For example, Hilex Poly, a leading bag manufacturer and recycler, created the “Bag-2-Bag” program, which has established 30,000 recycling points at grocery stores and retailers across the country, providing more than 90 percent of Americans with access to plastic bag recycling. In Iowa, the Iowa Grocery Industry Association’s “Build with Bags” program keeps plastic bags out of landfills by providing grants to convert plastic shopping bags into recycled products for the community. To date, the program has donated over $150,000 to more than 100 schools and parks across the state.

Regulating plastic bags will not only stifle effective recycling initiatives such as these, it could stifle Sioux City’s thriving business environment. Sioux City is currently one of the ten best for those seeking new employment, and for the second consecutive year the Siouxland region ranked first among communities with populations between 50,000 and 200,000 for economic development.

A plastic bag ban or fee could work to stall that robust growth, creating unnecessary financial burdens for business owners and consumers, while threatening local employment. In fact, according to a 2012 study by the National Center for Policy Analysis, store owners in regions with bag bans are often forced to lay off employees as business shifts to retailers just outside the ban’s perimeter.

When all the facts are carefully considered, bans or fees on plastic bags aren’t the quick-fix solution many hope for – and, fortunately, community leaders are beginning to take note.

In Iowa City, for instance, the City Council rejected a ban or fee in favor of an educational campaign on the benefits of reusing and recycling plastic bags. As they and others have rightfully pointed out, plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable, and despite being mislabeled as “single use” products, are frequently reused by consumers. Studies show a full 90 percent of Americans reuse plastic bags for many of their daily tasks, from carrying their lunches to cleaning up after their pets and lining household trashcans.

There are many viable – and, in fact, more effective – alternatives to taxing or banning plastic bags. By educating consumers and promoting common-sense recycling programs, Sioux City’s leaders can preserve consumer choice and keep the city beautiful and prosperous

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