Bag recycling not bag bans is the best solution for the plastic bag issue, said Keith Christman, senior packaging director for the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va.
At the Plastics Recycling conference in Jacksonville, Christman called on industry to put more effort into the recycling of plastic bags. Giving a rundown of bans so far, he pointed out differences in emphasis and impact.
The San Francisco ban aimed to replace conventional plastic carrier bags with compostable bags in large stores, he said. However, since that ban was instituted, paper bags are being used instead. Comparatively, Whole Foods Market, an Austin, Texas-based retailer of natural and organic foods, has banned plastic bags to promote reusable and paper bags, according to Christman.
Litigation and fear of litigation has thwarted similar bans in Oakland and Fairfax, Calif., and has slowed the trend, he said.
Some popular pro-ban arguments are myths, Christman said: ``People say how bags consume 12 million barrels of oil,'' but 80 percent of U.S.-made polyethylene is made from natural gas.
The accusation that plastic bags do not break down in landfills neglects the fact that many materials don't break down in landfills, including newspapers, he said. Even those that do break down to a certain extent, such as organics, emit methane gas, ``a greenhouse has that doesn't exactly benefit the environment,'' Christman said.
He said plastic bags are an environmentally responsible choice for several reasons. Conventional plastic bags use 70 percent less energy than paper bags, and 63 percent less than compostable plastic, he said. Their greenhouse-gas emissions are also 50 percent lower than paper and 77 percent lower than compostable plastic, he said. ``Plastic bags use less water and generate less solid waste,'' he added. Also, a high percentage of consumers reuse plastic bags.
He said industry needs to push in-store recycling, such as California's AB 2449, the New York City Plastic Bag Recycling Law and the Suffolk County Plastic Bag Recycling Ordinance.
``The growing trend towards recycling plastic bags, instead of bans [is] a practical solution to address the plastic bag issue,'' Christman said.