We hear the question almost every time we shop: “Paper or plastic?” But perhaps the real question we should be asking is: “Fact or fiction?”
As the debate over plastic bags and whether we should tax or ban them moves to localities – most recently Thurston County and Olympia – it’s about time we have a debate on the facts instead of ideology and rhetoric, as desired by those who are looking to ban plastic bags.
The falsehoods made in this debate that have led cities such as Seattle to implement bans on plastic bags have been at best disingenuous and at worse outright fiction and junk science. It’s about time we correct the record and have a debate on honest terms.
Plastic bags are not the environmental scourge they are made out to be – and banning them doesn’t reduce waste.
Unlike what many will have you believe, plastic bags made in the U.S. are made from natural gas, not foreign oil. They are 100 percent recyclable and reusable; they are reused by 9 out of 10 people for a multitude of reasons, like lining trash pails, taking lunch to work and cleaning up pet waste.
Moreover, they are not a large portion of our litter stream. Quite the contrary: They are a fraction of 1 percent. You are going to have to get rid of a lot more than plastic bags to have any noticeable impact on litter.
There hasn’t been any conclusive evidence associating plastic bag bans with reductions in litter. In fact, the percentage of plastic bag litter actually increased in the year following San Francisco’s ban, from 0.6 percent to 0.64 percent of the waste stream. Equating litter with a single product just is not a logical argument.
Let’s also get real about the proposed “solution.”
Reusable bags – the product that activists make out to be the solution to all of our problems – are actually worse for the environment. They cannot be recycled and are made from foreign oil in countries such as China. Many have been found to contain lead, and they have been proved to harbor dangerous bacteria, including fecal coliform.
Some shoppers opt for cloth bags, but these need to be used 131 times before they become a more environmentally friendly option than a plastic bag used once. And because plastic bags weigh less, they have less of an impact than paper when it comes to carbon emissions, transport and the use of water in production.
But these truths are not coming to light in the wake of so much misinformation.
And lobbying groups and activists are using that to their advantage. The Northwest Grocery Association, for example, has not only endorsed a ban but it is spending money lobbying for one – and it’s unlikely it’s taking the stand for environmental reasons. Rather, the nickel or dime charge on paper bags that typically accompanies plastic bag bans goes straight back to the grocers, padding their bottom lines.
I’m not against stores making a profit, but the benefit of bans to grocery stores isn’t environmental, it’s financial – plain and simple.
As an employee for a local plastic bag manufacturer that is part of an industry supporting more than 30,000 jobs across America and about 1,000 in Washington state alone, I find this trend toward attacking our industry and eliminating our jobs based on misinformation and outright fiction alarming and disheartening.
As an industry we have made our facilities more energy-efficient and our products with as little impact on the environment as possible. Despite the fact that we are the most sustainable option for consumers, we find ourselves defending our jobs and the livelihoods of those in our companies against junk science.
All Washingtonians are entitled to an honest debate, and our elected officials should base policy decisions on facts over fiction. That’s what we’re asking for as well.
Ken Holmes is marketing director for American Plastic Manufacturing, a Seattle-based plastic bag manufacturer.