The fight over bag bans heats up as L.A. picks a side

| August 14, 2013

There’s a fight brewing over increasingly widespread bans of disposable plastic and paper shopping bags. Earlier this summer, Los Angeles became the largest city in America to implement a comprehensive ban on retailers providing complimentary plastic shopping bags.

That means that in Los Angeles (along with many other communities, including San Francisco, Santa Monica, Santa Cruz and San Jose in California alone), shoppers either need to bring a reusable bag or, in some cases, pay for the use of a plastic bag.

There are two clearly delineated sides to the fight. One one side, is the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which just released a formal position on the bag band trend.

Catherine Kavanagh of Waste Recycling News reports that ISRI’s board “has adopted a policy to promote a market-based system for the trade of recyclable materials without restrictions or interference.”

According to the policy, ISRI officially “opposes bans and fees on paper and plastic bags that are being manufactured into useful commodity grade materials and sold into viable, commercial markets without subsidies or noncompetitive, fixed pricing.”

The ISRI argues that “proper recycling [of plastic and paper shopping bags] brings economic opportunities associated with the collection, processing, and reuse of [those bags].”

The ISRI may find allies in some shopkeepers who have reported a link between bag bans or fees and higher shoplifting rates. In fact, a bag tax in Washington, D.C. led to a policy change at area Safeway stores, where shoppers are now being asked to show receipts at the door.

Local Advisory Neighborhood Commission spokesperson Craig Muckle explained that, “since the fee was established last year, we have noticed consumers using traditional bags, along with less traditional pieces such as backpacks, to not only transport items from the store, but to carry items throughout the store.”

bag bans

Cloth bags like these replace paper and plastic following bag bans. From Karin Beil.

In spite of the potential drawbacks and opposition to bag bans, the voice for the other side is equally strong. “Proponents contend the measures reduce the number of plastic bags in landfills, trees, storm drains and recycling centers, where they clog sorting machines.”

Prior to the Los Angeles ban, a Sanitation Bureau report found that “the city of 3.9 million [used] more than 2 billion plastic carryout bags a year, with most ending up as litter or in landfills.”

San Jose banned plastic bags among all retailers in 2012. A December litter survey revealed a significant impact after the ban, finding “89 percent fewer bags in storm drains, 60 percent fewer in creeks and 59 percent fewer on city streets, compared with surveys before the bag ban.”

Plastic bag industry groups say the bans aren’t justified, arguing that plastic bags make up a relatively small percentage of the solid waste stream.

bag ban

The ISRI says stores should have plastic bag receptacles to encourage proper disposal. From RecycleReminders.

The ISRI’s policy “calls for more retailers to provide convenient collection for plastic bags.” This is in line with a trend showing a 19 percent increase in the number of plastic bags and sacks collected for recycling in 2011  when compared to those collected in 2010.

Kavanaugh reports that the U.S. EPA “cites significant energy savings of an estimated 50-75 million BTUs per ton of [plastic] material recycling.”

“Policymakers and consumers are often surprised to learn the important economic role that paper and plastic bags play in the continuous life-cycle of paper and plastic products,” said Joel Litman, president of Texas Recycling/Surplus, Inc., spokesman for ISRI’s paper stock industries chapter.

Fights such as the one embarked upon by ISRI aren’t futile. Industry groups such as the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) have reportedly experienced success “opposing bag bans and taxes in Oregon, California, Virginia, Maryland and Washington State,” says Kavanaugh.

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Category: Regulations

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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