NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Little Justification for California's Plastic Bag Ban

October 20, 2014

California recently became the first state to ban plastic bags. While 100 municipalities across the state had already banned the bags, California is the first to make such a ban statewide.

Lance Christensen of the Reason Foundation explains why the bans are a bad idea, on several fronts:

  • Supporters argue the ban will reduce litter, but such claims are overblown. Plastic bags are less than 1 percent of all visible litter and just 0.4 percent of solid waste.
  • The bag bans so far have done nothing to reduce the volume of litter or the cost of waste disposal. In fact, San Francisco actually saw an increase in litter after its bag ban was implemented.
  • Moreover, Christensen contends using alternative bags means consuming more energy and more water than using plastic bags.  An NCPA study came to similar conclusions, finding that paper and reusable bags are much worse for the environment than plastic bags in terms of energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use.

Finally, reusable bags pose health hazards if they are not washed frequently. Many consumers are unlikely to clean their reusable bags, potentially spreading bacteria. If they do clean their bags, says Christensen, it would result in reusable bags consuming 40 times the amount of water that plastic bags would.

Source: Lance Christensen, "Plastic Bag Ban Hurts California's Economy," Reason Foundation, October 13, 2014. 


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