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Getting Real About Plastic Bags

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NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL OPPOSES BAN ON PLASTIC BAGS - As a quasi-city advisory body to the L.A. City Council, the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council takes its duties very seriously.  Recently, we voted to oppose the proposed ordinance to ban plastic and paper bags which is scheduled to be heard in the Energy and Environment Committee this week.  Here’s why:
Proponents of the bag ban primarily cite three reasons why they believe it is necessary; they claim it will reduce waste, reduce litter, and “help protect the environment”.  But in researching these claims, primarily being promoted in a so-called “fact sheet” from the Bureau of Sanitation, we found them to be false, misleading, or based on old information.

First, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t reduce waste.  The Statewide Waste Characterization Studies published by the California Integrated Waste Management Board shows that “Plastic Grocery and Other Merchandise Bags” make up just 0.3% of the waste stream in California.   That’s 3/10 of 1%.  

Even if all “plastic grocery bags and other merchandise bags” disappeared tomorrow, it would have absolutely no effect on the amount of waste disposed of in California. And the City isn’t planning on banning all plastic store bags, just a portion of them.  The result will be completely insignificant in terms of the amount of waste generated.

Second, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t do much to reduce litter.  Despite what the misleading fact sheet says, seven recent litter studies from around the country demonstrate that, on average, plastic retail bags make up only 1-2% of litter.  While no amount of litter is desirable, education and recycling is the solution – not regressive bans.  

Recycling rates are rising and can continue to do so – according to the EPA, the recycling rate of polyethylene bags, sacks and wraps in 2010 was 14.7%.  Since plastic grocery bags are 100% recyclable and make up such a small percentage of litter, banning them will have no impact on the total amount of litter that needs to be cleaned up or the cost of doing so.

Third, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t do much to help protect the environment either.  Again, despite what the “fact sheet” says, plastic bags made in the U.S. are not made out of oil, they are made out of ethylene which is produced from ethane which is extracted from natural gas during the refinement process. If the ethane isn’t used to make the other products (primarily plastics) it would need to be stored or be burned off, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions.  Therefore, it is environmentally beneficial to use the ethane to make ethylene and then plastics. Using the ethane to make plastics does not in any way increase our dependence on foreign oil.  

Also, despite claims about plastics being a huge problem for our oceans and sea life, the truth is that there is no evidence that free plastic grocery bags make up any significant portion of the plastic waste that environmental groups are concerned about.  In fact, reports from environmental groups doing beach and ocean clean-ups show that plastic bags make up only about 2% of the debris. [link] This represents the smallest category of trash found.

So what will a ban on free plastic grocery bags actually do?  It will hurt American workers and will hurt the tax payers and consumers of Los Angeles.  If passed, this legislation would eliminate manufacturing jobs that support more than 1,000 families in the Los Angeles Area.  [link]

Further, it would encourage the use of less environmentally friendly reusable bags, [link] which are primarily manufactured and shipped from China and would result in a missed opportunity to expand recycling and create green jobs.  Finally, significant costs would be transferred to consumers.  Those who now reuse free plastic grocery bag for trash, pet waste, etc. will have to buy other plastic bags as a replacement.

The Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council opposed the proposed ordinance to ban plastic and paper bags because it will have no effect on protecting the environment or reducing pollution.  Quality of life, however, will be negatively impacted with higher costs for residents and a huge inconvenience.

The City of Los Angeles has invested heavily in its recycling programs and it would be shortsighted to dismantle a growing plastics recycling infrastructure – and create an expensive new government bureaucracy – by implementing the proposed ban. The City must consider all of the facts and the negative consequences of a ban.  By instead working with manufacturers, retailers and recyclers, the City can develop a common-sense bag policy that’s good for the economy, the environment and working families.

(Jay Beeber is the Chair of the Government Affairs Committee of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council. This article was posted most recently at California Political News and Views.) –cw

Tags: Plastic Bags, Ban on Plastic Bags, City Council, City Hall, Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council







CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 28
Pub: Apr 6, 2012


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