To the untrained eye it might look like a growing coalition of environmental groups are pushing bans on plastic bags throughout the country. We in the industry know the truth. Only a small number of communities in the United States have even considered a bag ban. Nonetheless, we need to take the defense of our industry and our workforce extremely seriously.
The economic case is on our side at every level of the value chain. The plastic bag industry supports more than 30,800 jobs in the U.S. These jobs often support an innovative sector of the green economy. Additionally, for each one of these manufacturing and recycling jobs, our industry creates an additional two jobs in support; that is over 60,000 American jobs that supply cartons, color concentrates, inks, transportation and local industry supply support.
Businesses also stand to lose from restrictions on plastic bags. When they have to switch from plastic to the more expensive paper alternative, they need to either raise prices on their custom-
ers or take a hit to their bottom lines. Moreover, it takes much more room to store paper bags as opposed to plastic ones, limiting warehouse space for other items. At a time when food prices are up 8½ percent from 2009 and consumers are already tightening their belts, an added burden to businesses and shoppers in this economy simply isn't good policy.
The case against our industry is often made by environmentalists who either have a poor understanding of the science or are just ignoring the facts. The alternatives they propose — paper and reusable bags — are in fact far worse for the environment than plastic bags because they have more impacts relative to greenhouse gases, water usage and landfills.
It's counterintuitive that some environmentalists have targeted plastic bags — which are made from natural gas in the U.S. — and not paper, which comes from trees. Greenhouse gases emitted during paper bag production and transportation far exceed those released in plastic bag production. Additionally, because paper bags are seven times larger than plastic they require seven times as many trucks on the road to transport.
As for reusable bags being the answer to the world's environmental problems, studies have shown otherwise. Cloth reusable bags require massive amounts of energy and chemicals to produce. According to a University of Oregon study, a quarter of the pesticides used in this country are used on cotton.
At the end of the day, cloth reusable bags require so much more energy to produce than regular plastic bags that they need to be used 131 times to be as environmentally friendly as a plastic grocery bag used once, according to a United Kingdom government study.
Reusable bags can also harbor dangerous germs. A girls' soccer team in Oregon found this out the hard way when their team got violently ill from a norovirus they picked up from a reusable bag.
Finally, the core of environmentalist arguments simply is not support by facts. When they justify attacks on our industry as an attempt to prevent litter, they ignore the fact that all plastic bag litter accounts for 0.6 percent of items littered throughout the nation and 0.5 percent of the solid waste stream. That said, no amount of litter is ever acceptable and our industry is focused on recycling used bags and wraps as a progressive avenue to alleviate even this fractional amount of litter.
Opponents of our industry rely heavily on emotional appeals because the science simply isn't in their favor. As is often the case, the best way to move this debate in the right direction is to defuse misplaced emotional energy with facts that stand the test of scientific legitimacy and are not just emotionally and visually compelling.
The APBA firmly believes that if communities have the full facts at their disposal, they will choose recycling over bans on plastic bags. Please learn and share these facts as you encounter legislators, activists and residents who have question about, or support, plastic bag bans and taxes.
Mark Daniels is chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, part of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. of Washington.