Every community has its problems, whether it be overcrowding in prisons, increasing high school dropout rates, transportation and congestion, high crime rates or housing shortages. But a large problem in the minds of Southern Californians lately is banning plastic grocery bags.
Senate Bill No. 270 would essentially phase out single-use plastic grocery bags statewide and would require that other bags such as reusable, paper and/or compost can only be distributed with a minimum 10 cent charge. The bill, beginning July 1, 2015 would also allow plastic bag manufacturers access to $2 million in recycling funds to reconfigure their plants to making reusable bags. It will affect supermarkets and large grocers at first, and later extend to pharmacies and liquor stores in 2016.
Senator Kevin de Leon, one of the three senators who introduced the bill, said that the 10-cent fee incurred on shoppers is meant to reimburse retailers for the cost of providing an alternative, as well as encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to the store.
So what does this mean for grocery stores and the environment? Will it drastically affect the amount waste per capita and the amount of litter showing up in marine habitats? Or is it just another way for big grocers to make money?
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, plastic bags make up less than 0.5 percent of the entire waste stream (a minuscule amount of landfill space) and less than 0.6 percent of litter nationwide. People tend to prefer plastic bags because they are lightweight and take up much less space that paper or reusable bags, not to mention the many uses for other purposes. Reusable bags actually require more resources to produce and are most often made in China, meaning higher costs for transportation and, in some cases, toxic chemicals.
The NCPA also points out that reusable bags can cost upwards of $4 a piece, a high price from something that can only be reused approximately 7.81 times prior to disposal. They quickly become dirty, and a University of Arizona study found evidence that reusable bags often harbor harmful bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli, leaving the bacteria to grow on conveyor belts, checkout counters and in car trunks.
Another important factor is that the bill will only ban the distribution of plastic bags in supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores, but will have no affect on retail stores and restaurants. After all, the restaurant industry is biggest consumer of plastic and consequently the biggest source of plastic litter.
Cities that have already employed the ban are showing no savings in city budgets that include waste collection and removal and sanitation disposal costs. For example, Brownsville, Texas, has found no discernible patterns suggesting that solid waste has decreased. In fact, Brownsville saw an increase in solid waste revenues and expenditures during the first two years of the ban.
Despite the evidence that clearly suggests the bad ramifications, legislators are still pushing to make this a statewide law, even though the ban does not seem to be worth the time, cost and effort.