Researchers have discovered that bans and fees on plastic carryout grocery bags (CGB) could have serious unintended consequences.
The investigators found that both bag fees and outright prohibitions boosted the sale of 4-gallon and 8-gallon plastic bags—in line with the view that many consumers reuse their supposedly single-use bags as garbage bags around the house.
“The effect of a 5¢ fee for either paper or plastic CGBs is essentially the same as that of a ban on plastic bag and a fee of 10 or 15¢ on paper bags. While policy makers may choose fees over bans in order to soften the blow, our results suggest that the overall effect on consumers is little different,” wrote the authors, professor Richard Woodward of Texas A&M University (TAMU) and Yu-Kai Huang of both TAMU and the University of Georgia.
Woodward and Huang used Nielsen retail scanner data from Washington; Santa Clara County, California; San Luis Obispo County, California; and Montgomery County, Maryland between 2006 and 2014. All four had passed restrictions on carryout grocery bags before 2014.
They used nearby counties that had not implemented such measures as controls.
Huang and Woodward found that plastic bag laws did not impact the sale of larger bags, lending additional support to the view that small plastic garbage bags end up substituting for the regulated grocery bags.
The study comes at a time when laws regulating the sale of plastic grocery bags are spreading rapidly throughout the United States and the wider world.
Chicago, for example, charges a tax of 7 cents per plastic bag.
Uniform plastic bag fees are a regressive tax because people pay the same amount no matter their wealth or income.
Carryout plastic bag bans have been passed in California, New York, Maine, Vermont, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, and Connecticut.
Such bags have also been banned in China, New Zealand, and many other countries, including several African countries.
In Kenya, for instance, people caught producing, importing, or using banned plastic bags can suffer major fines or even imprisonment.
Woodward and Huang estimated that plastic bag regulations led stores to purchase an average of 127 more pounds of plastic each month because of the substitution of small plastic garbage bags for carryout bags.
“While we are unable to tell the net effect on plastic consumption, because of the heavier weight of purchased trash bags, it is possible that a bag ban could even lead to an increase in total plastic waste, and this is without taking into account any plastic content in purchased CGBs that consumers buy, and eventually discard, as a result of the ban,” the authors noted in the study.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Plastics Industry Association for comment.
The Epoch Times has also contacted an anti-single use plastic group, the Footprint Foundation. The Footprint Foundation is associated with Footprint, a materials science firm that aims to replace single-use plastics with plant-based alternatives.
In addition, The Epoch Times has reached out to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group known for its opposition to single-use plastics.