SAN FRANCISCO: Plastic bag bans in cities such as San Francisco and San Jose are bad for the environment and do not decrease costs, according to a new study from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).
According to academic, H. Sterling Burnett, the alternative paper bags and reusable shopping bags use more energy, more resources and produce more greenhouse gasses.
"In short, plastic bags are the green alternative. They save money, and they save the environment," Burnett said.
He also claims that paper and reusable bags produce more waste and pollution than their plastic equivalents.
"Do Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money?"
The study examined six cities, including San Francisco and San Jose, that have enacted plastic bag restrictions. Despite claims from bag ban proponents that the bans would reduce costs to cities by reducing litter costs, solid waste disposal, and recycling expenses, cities that have banned the bags show no evidence that the bans have led to a reduction in those costs.
The city of San Francisco was the first US city to enforce a law and banned plastic bags in 2007 claiming that the ban would decrease the overall amount of garbage collected. According to Burnett the study shows that garbage and recycling rates rose more than 78.6% in the city between 2005 and 2013.
Prior to the ban, City Supervisor, Ross Mirkarimi estimated that bag disposal and lost revenue cost the city and the private waste disposal and recycling contractors almost $8.5m a year.
However, this estimate included both paper and plastic bags, whereas the vast majority of collection and disposal costs are due to paper bags according to Burnett's study.
In 2011 San Jose became the largest city at that time to adopt a ban, approving one of the strictest bag bans in the nation, it became effective in January 2012. The city banned plastic bags from both large and small retailers, excepting only restaurants, nonprofits, social organizations and retailers that use plastic or paper bags for fresh produce, meat or bulk goods.
Burnett says that there was no explicit estimate of the expected savings, and data on the ban is still relatively incomplete. However, the city council adopted budgets that increased spending from about $95.5 million for the 2009-2010 budget year to $110.4 million in 2012-2013 (the ban’s first year), a 15.6 percent rise.
In Los Angeles County a have had a ban in place since 2011. The study indicates that spending on solid waste rose over 30 percent from budget year 2006-2007 to 2011-2012. Projected spending rose nearly 6 percent from 2011-2012 to the adopted budget for 2012-2013.
In June of this year, the City of Los Angeles approved an ordinance banning plastic bags, effective from January 2014 for large stores and July 2014 for smaller stores. The law requires customers to either use their own reusable bags or pay 10 cents per paper bag.
BROWNSVILLE - TEXAS:
The Texas city put some restrictions on plastic carry-out bags in 2009, but full enforcement began in 2011. For the first two years of the ban, solid waste revenues and expenses have risen. Brownsville’s garbage collection fees and waste disposal expenses have seen extreme swings, with a general upward trend, but no discernible pattern.
D.C. put in place a 5-cent plastic bag levy in 2010. While the city saw a decline in costs for solid waste collection and removal and sanitation disposal, a look at the data indicates that the reductions are almost entirely due to budget cuts and not the plastic bag tax.
Spending on public space cleaning increased in 2010 (the first year of the tax), but it declined 33 percent in 2011. There was a more modest decline in costs for solid waste collection and removal, and sanitation disposal. However the data indicates the reductions stem almost entirely from substantial federal and local budget cuts.
"None of the six cities I examined experienced any measurable savings from their taxes or bans on plastic grocery bags," Burnett said.
He said that proponents of plastic bag restrictions who claim that restrictions will reduce cities' solid waste costs should provide evidence to back up their claims.
"But this study indicates that they can't," he added.
According to Burnett, advocates of bag bans insist that plastic bags harm the environment. But he insists that they are actually more environmentally friendly than alternatives, making up just 0.6 percent of all litter.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plastic bags account for less than 0.5 percent of the entire waste stream.
Full text: H. Sterling Burnett, "Do Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money?" National Center for Policy Analysis, December 2013.
ABOUT THE REPORT'S AUTHOR
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is one of the country's leading authorities on energy and environmental issues. He is the lead analyst of the NCPA E-Team.
Burnett's area of expertise includes topics such as government environmental policy, offshore drilling, global warming, endangered species and public lands.
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