Banning the plastic bag ban
Marketed as sustainable and environmentally friendly, banning plastic bags is the newest fad among environmentalists. While the ban of plastic bags has noble goals in mind, it will unfortunately do more harm than good. Stopping the sale of plastic bags on campus will increase the use of paper and reusable bags, resulting in increased pollution, fewer American jobs and more cases of foodborne illness.
Using plastic bags causes less pollution than the alternatives of paper bags or reusable cloth bags. According to Stewart Smith (a source the group supporting the Wash. U. ban has cited), “the making of a plastic bag compared to a paper bag uses up to 40 percent less energy; produces up to 80 percent less solid waste; produces 72 percent less atmospheric emissions; and creates 90 percent less waterborne waste.” Furthermore, the United States largely imports paper bags whereas plastic bag manufacturing employs 30,000 Americans (National Center for Policy Analysis). Thus, the use of paper bags results in more pollution—such as oil burned to transport bags here—than plastic bags and takes away American jobs.
Reusable bags also harm the environment more than plastic bags. A study by the United Kingdom’s Environmental Agency found that a cotton tote must be reused 172 times to result in less global warming potential than using plastic disposable bags; 94 times to result in less abiotic depletion; 354 times to result in less marine aquatic toxicity; 1,899 times to result in less terrestrial ecotoxicity; and the list goes on. Keep in mind that a typical reusable cotton bag has an average lifespan of 52 reuses. The same study concluded that paper bags and biodegradable bags have worse environmental impacts than disposable plastic bags.
A University of Texas study by Klick and Wright found the number of foodborne illness cases has increased in San Francisco after the implementation of a plastic bag ban. People rarely wash their reusable bags, and, as a result, bacteria colonize the bag. Predictably, the bacteria infect the food, putting human life in danger and raising healthcare sector costs. Sterile plastic bags thus help keep foodborne illnesses to a minimum and save money.
Finally, plastic bags are reusable. Many Wash. U. students put them to work as trash can liners, a more environmentally friendly option than buying heavier trash bags, which have a much more energy-intensive production. The bags can then be thrown away, shipped off to a landfill where they make up an insignificant amount of the waste at less than 1 percent of the total space (Reason magazine) and are inert. Or many plastic bags can be recycled themselves! While plastic bag litter is harmful, both to wildlife and as an eyesore, Wash. U. students either reuse their plastic bags or dispose of them. I myself have never seen plastic bags strewn around campus.
Wash. U. must not enact the ban on plastic bags. However, students should still be aware of their bag usage: If a purchase from the bookstore can fit in their backpack, they should forego the plastic bag. But using a paper bag or a reusable bag will cause far more harm than good.