Are plastic grocery bags "deadly and costly," or is their harm "overblown"? That's a question The Wall Street Journal is asking readers today, as part of a report it calls "Big Issues." The newspaper has a point/counterpoint pair of editorials in a special section today -- Daniella Dimitrova Russo of the Plastic Pollution Coalition makes the case for bans, while Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center makes a case for the defense of plastic bags. The debate doesn't cover any new ground, but it's interesting to see the WSJ giving such prominent play to the issue. The newspaper calls bag bans one of "six crucial environmental issues," along with subsidies for solar and wind power, putting a price on carbon, the future of nuclear energy, privatizing water and the Keystone pipeline. Calling plastic bags "deadly and costly" in the headline of Russo's column will attract attention -- it's already generating comments from WSJ readers. It's interesting that Myers leans heavily on a 2011 study from the U.K. Environment Agency in his defense of plastic bags. I remember the study -- but I'm not sure if Plastic Blog readers will. So I'll summarize it here. The report compared lightweight high density polyethylene bags to paper, low density PE, non-woven polypropylene and cotton bags. It concluded that HDPE had a lower impact on the environment unless the other bags were reused multiple times. If anything, you may remember a part of the study that Plastics News highlighted: that in order to equal an HDPE bag used just once:
- A paper bag would need to be reused three times.
- A LDPE "bag-for-life" would need to be reused four times.
- A non-woven PP bag would need to be reused 11 times.
- A cotton bag would need to be reused 131 times.