Plastic Bags: It’s Time to Get Beyond “Ban, Ban, Ban”

Ban styrofoam, ban Bisphenol-A, ban plastic bags, ban phosphate dishwashing detergents, ban coal. What else can we ban? That represents the typical mantra for environmental groups and activists these days. Their only method of effecting change is to use government force to take choice from citizens.

Environmental groups are now forcefully targeting plastic bags. Groups like the Tualatin Riverkeepers, Environment Oregon and the Audubon society have said that these bags end up in the ocean, take too long to break down and are just all-around unhealthy for the environment. Their solution? Lobby government along with self-interested paper companies to eliminate this choice entirely for consumers and retailers.

Unfortunately for activists and the paper companies, the “unhealthy for the environment” claim is more than misguided. It is false. A single paper bag takes over twice the energy to produce than a single plastic bag. This definitely conflicts with environmentalist goals of reducing energy use. Comparing entire life cycles, one paper bag produces almost five times the atmospheric pollutants and 15 times the waterborne pollutants than a single plastic bag. This was the major reason why plastic bags were developed―to improve the environment. Besides, the same environmentalists are working on locking up every acre of forested land, which is directly contrary to their indirect promotion of paper bags. After all, paper comes from forests.

What about these bags ending up in the streets? And the ocean? Environmentalists have misdiagnosed the problem. The problem is not that plastic bags exist but that they are not ending up in the proper place―landfills, trashcans, etc. The problem is littering, yet the only solution proposed is an outright ban.

“But these bags do not break down!” the ban advocates say. Luckily, bags are recyclable at local grocery stores and a variety of other places across the state. In addition, households often reuse and “recycle” these bags by finding a multitude of uses in and around the home. The argument doesn’t make much sense anyhow. Plastic doesn’t just exist in bags. It is in a whole host of products that the world consumes. What’s next? Banning all plastic on earth?

It is unfortunate that supposedly well-intentioned advocacy organizations put all their efforts into outright consumer bans. These organizations could work towards creating public awareness of a perceived problem and organizing a grassroots movement to use alternatives voluntarily. The only way to effect meaningful change is to change culture, which requires voluntarily winning hearts and minds. Unlike making regulatory changes, this genuinely can help the environment, while preserving choice and freedom that we so value in this country. Instead, environmental organizations get involved with special interest lobbyists (paper bag manufacturers) to eliminate consumer choice. But perhaps this is an easier route for the anti-plastic crowd. Perhaps their science and environmental arguments aren’t sound, so the only solution is to “hire” self-interested corporations and self-promoting politicians to force citizens to believe in their quest for irrational environmental policy.


Todd Wynn is Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center. He received his bachelor’s degree in Business Economics from California State University Long Beach and his masters in International and Developmental Economics from University of San Francisco.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Global Warming, OR 76th Legislative Session, Oregon Government, Oregon House, Oregon Senate | Tagged | 9 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Notawhimp

    These clueless morons are so out of touch with reality. They want us all to use metrosexual cloth bags, which take even more energy to create and really don’t last that long with heavy use.
    I don’t know about you all, but I refuse to carry a man-bag around just to save the environment. I carry what I need and I need what I carry. What else really is there to say??

    • Founding Fathers

      Actually, I think the definition of a “wimp” is someone who is such a weakling that he can’t carry around a cloth bag, and is so insecure about his manliness that he’s afraid that others will think less of him because he carries a bag around.

      • Testosterone1

        Man-bag it all you want, but don’t call me a whimp. I don’t ever use cold cream on my face – but you sure do! I don’t get massages, either. I drive a truck, not some stupid little rice box. I wear boots, not shoes. I wear sweatshirts, not some lacey finery.
        All you little poodle-faced dandies make me sick. You fops wouldn’t know a real man if you saw one, as you would be too busy running for you weak little lives.
        True grit – that is what makes real men. Not some wussies running around screaming about plastic bags.
        Do you even know how pathetic you sound? You must be a girly man. Or a girly boy.

  • Bob Clark

    I like the convenience of plastic bags. They are made largely from a byproduct of natural gas extraction, which might have to be flared if it weren’t for marketable uses like plastic bags. Plastic bags keep my grocery items from getting wet while transporting myself by bike or on foot to my local markets.

    It’s kind of funny but I remember back to the old soviet union where people shopped with big pocketed coats, and stuffed their goods in their pockets for lack of enough economic prosperity to have paper and plastic shopping bags. How apropos for Oregon legislators, including RINO Atkinson, to be attempting to force Oregonians into a failed state, Soviet Union lifestyle.

  • Bob Clark

    I like the convenience of plastic bags. They are made largely from a byproduct of natural gas extraction, which might have to be flared if it weren’t for marketable uses like plastic bags. Plastic bags keep my grocery items from getting wet while transporting myself by bike or on foot to my local markets.

    It’s kind of funny but I remember back to the old soviet union where people shopped with big pocketed coats, and stuffed their goods in their pockets for lack of enough economic prosperity to have paper and plastic shopping bags. How apropos for Oregon legislators, including RINO Atkinson, to be attempting to force Oregonians into a failed state, Soviet Union lifestyle.

  • Bob Clark

    I like the convenience of plastic bags. They are made largely from a byproduct of natural gas extraction, which might have to be flared if it weren’t for marketable uses like plastic bags. Plastic bags keep my grocery items from getting wet while transporting myself by bike or on foot to my local markets.

    It’s kind of funny but I remember back to the old soviet union where people shopped with big pocketed coats, and stuffed their goods in their pockets for lack of enough economic prosperity to have paper and plastic shopping bags. How apropos for Oregon legislators, including RINO Atkinson, to be attempting to force Oregonians into a failed state, Soviet Union lifestyle.

  • Bad For Eco-Nuts

    Perfect arguements listing several reasons why I haven’t donated a dime to any “environmental group” in over a decade. None of these organization have any business telling anyone how to live and/or what products to use. I look forward to
    the day when some of these organizations overstep their non-profit bounds and
    are subject to a major lawsuit that bankrupts them.

    • Stillaman

      Right on! I am a man, not some whimp. I will not ever carry a man-bag. They are for sissies and creepy fools. Not for MEN!
      What’s next, manicures???

  • Ron Swaren

    Please recycle these at your grocery store. I just collect them into a big wad, contained within another plastic bag, along with other similar plastic packaging such as clear plastic wrappings, until it gets to be about a foot in diameter. In my neighborhood the QFC store has a bin at the door for these.

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