Please Note: This is MY PERSONAL OPINION and is not necessarily shared or encouraged by my company.
A morning ritual I have is to scan various news sources and trade sites to see what is going on in the world and the plastics industry. It seems as of late that everywhere I look there is a news story about some county or city enacting a plastic bag ban.
These stories and articles often site statistics about how much waste is created from single use plastic bags.
How they are destroying the oceans and killing baby turtles.
And citing these “urban tumble weeds” as adding to the decay of our environment.
I’ll be the first to say that my thoughts on this subject may be skewed a bit because I work in the plastic bag industry. But I consider myself a rational person and given a good argument, I am more than likely to consider alternatives to my view or even change my mind.
That being said, I try to assess all the facts before I feel I can make an accurate decision or opinion on any matter.
Well these plastic bag bans are one such issue that I am inclined to disagree with given the facts. Please keep in mind that plastic bag bans have for the most part in NO way affected myself, my income, or the company I work for.
In addition, those pictures of a turtle eating plastic film strikes a cord with me. Why? Because I actually have a pet turtle named Ollie. She is a red eared slider I adopted from a friend and she joins the other 3 turtles I’ve raised throughout my life.
Digressing from turtles, I return to my point about these plastic bag bans. They are generally targeted towards single use plastic grocery bags, which is not my forte.
And although my life has not been affected in any way due to the plastic bag bans, I feel that I have a unique perspective since I am in the plastics industry.
So lets examine some of the more common arguments in favor of the numerous plastic bag bans taking place across the country and world. And given the facts, hopefully give a better understanding of my opinion and why I have come to the conclusion that plastic bag bans are in fact, not a good idea.
Argument #1: Plastic Bag Bans Are The Best Way To Reduce Plastic Waste
In my recent post, Is It Better For Plastics To Be Recyclable Or Biodegradable?, I discuss some of the pros and cons to plastics recycling versus plastics biodegradability in regards to reducing waste.
As it is recycling, based on the facts I had gathered, came out in the lead as the most responsible method for reducing plastic waste.
And although proponents of plastic bag bans described grocery bags as a scourge on the environment, one thing you may notice is that plastic waste, in these statements and articles, does not encompass other forms of plastic packaging such as shampoo bottles, discarded plastic toys, toothbrushes, and pretty much a portion of the trash we throw away every single day.
In fact, according to the EPA the largest proportion of solid plastic waste is from containers and packaging such as soft drink bottles, plastic lids, and shampoo bottles. Plastic grocery bags make up a very small proportion of this waste.
Argument #2: Plastic Bags Are Single Use
I was raised by environmentalists (no really, my parents own an environmental consulting firm) and have always known plastic grocery bags to have multiple uses.
I can’t imagine ever throwing away a plastic bag immediately after putting my groceries away. There are so many uses available to reuse those bags, including taking them back to the grocery store to be used again to carry your groceries.
How often do you see that happen?
Imagine what would happen if there was an incentive to simply reuse your plastic grocery bags. You could potentially cut the waste down by as much as 50%. What a change we would see.
Argument #3: By Banning Plastic Bags You Will Reduce The Amount Of Waste In Our Landfills & Oceans.
Believe it or not plastic grocery bags are a very small percentage of waste that ends up in our landfills. Especially when you consider the small size and weight of these thin plastic bags. And when considering the amount of total plastic waste that ends up there, plastic grocery bags are not an epidemic.
Now imagine if there was no longer access to free or low cost plastic grocery bags. The additional uses many people have for those bags would not disappear, instead they’d now be required to purchase ADDITIONAL bags to fill that void.
If plastic grocery bags were no long available what would people use to line their trash cans? Store bought trash bags of course.
And what would be used to pick up dog waste after a nice walk? Store bought doggie bags.
So banning plastic grocery bags will not reduce as much waste as experts have claimed it will. The many additional uses for plastic bags will still be there and instead of having a plastic bag on it’s second life used, you’ll actually be creating a larger single use plastic bag industry.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is 100% opposite of the goal for these plastic bag bans.
By the way, plastic debris in the oceans actually comes from many sources such as plastic fishing lines, detergent bottles, drinking straws, PET bottles, and even toothbrushes. A majority of the waste is NOT plastic grocery bags. Go figure.
Argument #4: Paper Bags Are Biodegradable And Will Eventually Disappear In A Landfill
Again referencing my previous article, you’ll read that biodegradability is dependant on a few factors. Including, adequate sunlight, oxygen, and biodegrading microbes.
Unfortunately most landfills are packed so tightly that ample sunlight and oxygen are not present more than a layer or two down. This severely inhibits any biodegration that we are counting on to degrade the paper bags.
Due to the lack of these important elements nothing completely degrades in modern landfills. How sad is that?
Argument #5: Paper Grocery Bags Reduce Natural Resource Consumption.
In actuality, paper grocery bags are much more resource intensive to produce than standard plastic bags. They require more energy, water, and natural resources to create and recycle.
Most plastic grocery bags are made from polyethylene film which is produced using natural gas; an abundant but limited natural resource. Paper bags on the other hand require trees and wood to produce.
That wood must go through a number of resource intensive steps to turn it into wood pulp before being made into bags. This process requires massive amounts of water to clean the wood in addition to the chemical baths the wood is treated in.
Alternatively, standard polyethylene plastic bags use significantly less water to produce since there is no washing or chemical treating required.
Comparatively paper grocery bags use approximately 1 gallon of water PER BAG! Compare that with a polyethylene grocery bag which uses only .008 gallons of water per bag.
The #1 trade off to using paper bags instead of plastic bags seems to be an absurd increase in the use of valuable water resources.
Because paper bags come from an entirely different resource base (wood fibers) than do plastic bags (natural gas), there is another consideration to keep in mind. Unless this wood comes from sustainably managed forests or from agricultural waste, there will still be a depletion of natural resources. Specifically natural forests and the ecosystems which are dependent on them.
In addition because of the lower mass and weight of plastic grocery bags, less energy and resources are used in transporting them compared to paper grocery bags.
These facts may go against what popular culture is telling us but paper grocery bags truly are a more resource intensive product to manufacture compared to the plastic bags proposed to be banned.
In addition there is a final trade off if more plastic grocery bag bans are enacted which needs to be considered.
Because paper bags are more resource intensive to produce than polyethylene bags, there is the potential of increasing greenhouse gas emissions due to the increase in paper grocery bag production.
As I mentioned I am open to other opinions but when it comes to the issue of these plastic bag bans I feel the facts should have steered us in a different direction.
The true solution to reducing plastic waste is not by eliminating it out right but rather by improving our control and recycling of it. I know it’s a different scenario but did prohibition work for alcohol?
When plastics, and plastic grocery bags, are given the proper resources to be adequately reused and recycled we will eliminate the need for virgin materials to be used to make new supplies. Only then will we adequately reduce the amount of waste that finds its way into our landfills, oceans, streets, and environment.
Let me know your thoughts. Yay or Nay for Plastic Bag Bans?
~The Poly Bag Pro