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Sunday, May 12, 2013
Better to recycle plastic bags thanto ban them
To the untrained eye, it might look like a growing coalition of environmental groups are pushing bans on plastic bags. Only a small number of communities in the United States have even considered a bag ban.
We need to make sure that the environmental, health and economic facts supporting the case are understood. When the public gets the facts — and not just emotionally charged imagery — it will come to the same conclusion that we’ve always known: Plastic bags are the best choice at checkout and should not be restricted.
The economic case is on our side at every level of the value chain. The plastic bag industry supports more than 30,800 U.S. jobs. These jobs often support an innovative sector of the green economy. Additionally, for each one of these manufacturing and recycling jobs, the plastic bag industry creates an additional two support jobs; that is more than 60,000 American jobs that supply cartons, color concentrates, inks, transportation and local industry supply support.
The alternatives — paper and reusable bags — are in fact far worse for the environment than plastic bags because they have more impacts relative to greenhouse gases, water usage and landfills.
It’s counterintuitive that some environmentalists have targeted plastic bags, which are made from natural gas in the United States, and not paper, which comes from trees. Greenhouse gases emitted during paper bag production and transportation far exceed those released in plastic bag production. Additionally, because paper bags are seven times larger than plastic, they require seven times as many trucks on the road to transport.
As for reusable bags being the answer to the world’s environmental problems, studies have shown otherwise. Cloth reusable bags require massive amounts of energy and chemicals to produce. According to a University of Oregon study, a quarter of the pesticides used in this country are used on cotton. Cloth reusable bags require so much more energy to produce than regular plastic bags that they need to be used 131 times to be as environmentally friendly as a plastic grocery bag used once, according to a U.K. government study.
Finally, when environmentalists justify attacks on plastic bags as an attempt to prevent litter, they ignore the fact that all plastic bag litter accounts for 0.6 percent of items littered throughout the nation and 0.5 percent of the solid-waste stream. That said, no amount of litter is ever acceptable, and the plastic bag industry is focused on recycling used bags and wraps as a progressive avenue to alleviate even this fractional amount of litter.
Opponents of plastic bags rely heavily on emotional appeals because the science simply isn’t in their favor. As is often the case, the best way to move this debate in the right direction is to defuse the misplaced emotional energy with facts that stand the test of scientific legitimacy and are not just emotionally and visually compelling. If communities have the full facts at their disposal, they will choose recycling over bans on plastic bags.
Weather JournalStorm track isn't very snowy for us