(May 22, 2009) — The following is a response to an April 15 post on The Plastics Blog, Bag ban battle comes to San Jose, Calif.
Thank you for drawing attention to an important environmental debate taking place in San Jose. The battle, as you call it, isn't black and white. Plastic bag makers agree with David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, that plastic bags don't belong in our rivers, bays and oceans. However, we disagree with his notion that recycling isn't part of the solution. Used bags can and should be recycled into valuable products.
Communities across the country are rejecting taxes and bans on plastic grocery bags in favor of the three R's reduce, reuse and recycle. These are common sense, concrete steps to help keep our environment clean and litter-free. And they're working.
According to the recent National Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bag and Film Report, plastic film recovery (including plastic bags and product wraps) has seen an overall increase of 27 percent since 2005. The same report found that approximately 830 million pounds of post-consumer plastic bags and wraps were recovered in 2007. And we expect to see significant increases as states and localities adopt bag recycling requirements.
The few communities that have taxed or banned the use of plastic grocery bags found that their efforts to help the environment actually had the opposite effect.
Contrary to Mr. Lewis' citation, after a 2002 tax on grocery bags in Ireland, consumers actually use 10 percent more plastic bags than they did in Ireland's pretax days because they are now purchasing bags to replace those they reused after carrying their groceries, according to the Packaging and Industrial Films Association in the United Kingdom.
San Francisco's ban on plastic grocery bags caused shoppers to switch to paper bags, which, as Mr. Lewis stated, require an enormous amount of energy and millions of trees to produce. Specifically, paper bags require 70 percent more energy to manufacture, produce 50 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions and create five times more waste than plastic bags.
And ironically, a before-and-after audit in San Francisco found that litter had not decreased, which was one of the stated purposes of the city's ban.
There are simple things we can all do to make sure plastic bags end up in the recycle bin and not as litter. Bring a reusable bag when you shop. If you choose plastic bags, reuse them at home as trash can liners, to pick up after your pets or for myriad other uses. And bring back any leftover bags to the store for recycling.
There are also a number of steps we have taken as an industry to contribute to a cleaner environment, including helping to create a nationwide recycling infra¬- structure (most recently, placing over 500 recycling bins on California beaches), educating children on marine debris, supporting a new national effort to fight litter, and developing more efficient packaging, among others.
Because you offer readers a link to Mr. Lewis' commentary on the Huffington Post Web site, we feel obligated to address some of the misinformation and misrepresentations that are a part of Mr. Lewis' argument. ACC has not filed suit against communities seeking to implement policies to address plastic bags or used heavy-handed tactics. To the contrary our approach has been and continues to be constructive and proactive. We seek to partner with communities to implement effective programs that encourage consumers to reduce, reuse and recycle, and we're supporting statewide legislation that would promote the use of recycled content in plastic bags.
ACC's Progressive Bag Affiliates represents over 80 percent of plastic bag manufacturing nationwide, and is dedicated to educating consumers and lawmakers that plastic bags are fully recyclable and that plastic bag recycling is a sound option for the environment and the economy. They have no affiliation with the Save the Plastic Bag group nor has ACC been a party to litigation filed by SaveThePlasticBags.com.
Progressive Bag Affiliates
American Chemistry Council