As a retailer and a person in the recycling business concerned about cleaning up the environment, I have to take exception to your editorial supporting SB5323, the bill to ban so called “single use plastic bags” and impose a bag tax. The bill assumes that banning plastic grocery bags is good for the environment. But do the facts back up this assumption? Lawmakers would do well to consider the consequences of their actions using facts and logic instead of fuzzy, emotional assertions.
First of all, “single use plastic bag” is a misnomer. Most people re-use the bags for trash can liners, dog poop and a myriad of other uses. A survey by the American Plastics Council (admittedly a biased organization) said that 90 percent of households surveyed re-used the plastic bags. The Pacific Beach Food Bank uses donated used bags to distribute food to their clients.
Granted that plastic waste is a problem for our environment, but plastic grocery bags make up only 1 percent of litter and 0.4 percent of municipal waste. A study in Ireland, after imposing a tax on the bags, showed an increase in plastic consumption due to an increase in sales of commercial trash bags that are made of thicker plastic and take even longer to break down in the environment or in landfills. San Francisco actually had an increase in litter after banning plastic grocery bags. A ban on free plastic grocery bags would be an extra burden on low income people who would have to pay for less useful paper bags and/or spend more money on commercial trash bags.
What about the issue of landfills and biodegradability as it relates to paper vs. plastic bags? A scientific study showed paper bags take up nine times more room in a landfill vs. plastic bags and that they both break down at about the same rate.
Many people are worried about the release of carbon and its supposed effect on global warming. The manufacturing of plastic bags uses less water, fewer toxic chemicals and releases less greenhouse gas than the manufacturing of paper bags and thus has half the carbon footprint. And since paper bags are so much heavier and bulkier, they require more energy to ship to their destination.
What about re-usable cloth bags? Unless the bags are washed regularly, they can harbor and grow toxic bacteria from produce and leaking meat packages. Hospitals in cities where plastic bags have been banned have seen a noticeable increase in food poisoning and other bacterial infections. Washing the cloth bags uses 40 times as much water as making plastic bags plus the energy to wash them and dispose of the wash water. Re-usable heavy plastic carry bags must also be washed out and usually end up in the landfill where they take up more space and break down slower than grocery bags. Many of the bags are manufactured in China using toxic chemicals not allowed in the U.S. and require the cost of shipping them across the ocean.
The facts clearly show that banning plastic grocery bags will increase greenhouse emissions, use more energy and resources, increase human diseases and infections and place an extra burden on low income people. And let’s not forget the damned inconvenience of switching to a less useful 1800s technology, paper bags. How about taking your groceries and other items home in the pouring rain in a paper bag? Will the state hire bag inspectors to keep track of paper bags in every store in the state and make sure the 8 cent tax is collected?
I object to legislators forcing me to do something that increases harm to my environment and forces me to collect a tax from my customers for an inferior product that I do not want to use. To suggest that Grays Harbor will benefit from this ill-conceived law because they will have to cut down more trees to make paper bags is ludicrous!