Banning Plastic Bags: It Works

plastic bag

Finally, plastic bags are so over.

Residents all over the San Francisco Bay area are stepping up and bringing their own reusable bags, elected officials around the country (and the world) are waking up to the problem of plastic pollution in our communities and waterways. And they’re passing comprehensive bans on single use plastic shopping bags. The only group that doesn’t get that plastic bags are done is the plastics industry.

Plastics industry lobbyists continue to pour millions of dollars into their anti-ban lobbying efforts, but smart communities aren’t buying their arguments. The facts speak for themselves and the industry’s fear tactics no longer scare us.

Anti-Litter Campaigns Don’t Work

The only way to eliminate the harm that plastic bags do to the environment is to ban them. The very characteristic that makes them convenient and cheap (their weight) ensures that they blow into our storm drains, across highways, into trees, and wash up on the banks of our local waterways. Plastic bags are consistently one of the most common litter items collected during creek and shoreline cleanups because they are extremely difficult to manage. No amount of public education will change that. According to a local solid waste professional, plastic bags are known in the industry as “Landfill Angels,” as they descend upon our earth and sea by the millions.

Plastic Bags Kill Wildlife

Do plastic bags comprise a large portion of weight or volume of the total litter in our creeks? No. But don’t be fooled – plastic bags have a disproportionate impact on the environment despite their innocuous appearance. They entangle wildlife, kill birds and animals that mistake the plastic bags for food, and suffocate our wetland habitat that, ironically, we depend on to naturally filter pollutants out of our creeks before they flow into the Bay.

Plastic Bag Recycling is a Joke

The plastic industry has offered its version of a solution – recycling.  Although Save The Bay supports recycling as a step toward creating “zero waste” communities, recycling is not a solution for litter. And, frankly, recycling plastic bags is a joke. Ask any Bay Area recycler. Recycled plastic bag film is not a hot commodity on the market, meaning recyclers lose money. If you place a plastic bag in a recycling bin in the Bay Area, it will end up in the landfill. Period.

Reusable Bags Don’t Kill People

The latest attempt by the plastics industry to generate panic is to convince us all that reusable bags are hotbeds of bacterial contamination. I’m personally insulted by the notion that I don’t know how to keep my food clean. That aside, the “studies” making these assertions fail to show any connection between increased use of reusable bags and food poisoning.  Furthermore, they were torn to shreds by people who actually have expertise in these areas, including San Francisco’s Department of Public Health. Were these studies peer reviewed? No. Did they consult an epidemiologist to make sure they were using sound science to draw their conclusions? No. Do they hold water? Absolutely not.

The story of plastic bags is in its final chapter. Our parents and grandparents clearly remember the days – not long ago – when these and other single-use plastic products were not commonplace. They are unnecessary, unsustainable, and unpleasant – three strong reasons to continue on the path toward plastic bag-free communities. And we will continue, despite the plastic industry’s last-ditch efforts.

Allison Chan

About Allison Chan, Save The Bay’s Clean Bay Campaign Manager
Allison works on Save The Bay’s pollution prevention program, the Clean Bay Project, which focuses on helping cities pass bans on commonly littered products such as plastic bags and Styrofoam take-out containers. When she’s not attending city council meetings or researching plastic pollution, Allison loves to try new restaurants, hike, and seek sunny spots in San Francisco.

Image: jonathan.youngblood