To hear some politicians talk, plastic bags are among the world’s worst inventions. In Olympia,
There is no question that plastic bag bans are a trendy environmental cause. California, much of Hawaii and numerous cities in Washington and elsewhere have adopted such bans. But as with many causes, the facts do not support the fervor.
The rationale behind SB 5323 is that if plastic bags were eliminated, they would not wind up in the ocean, rivers and other places where they potentially harm marine animals and other wildlife. Each year,
Yet only a small amount comes from the United States, and even less of that from plastic bags.
Plastic pollution is a legitimate issue. But the problem is not that stores provide single-use bags; it is that some people litter or don’t dispose of them properly. Littering is Washington’s primary source of plastic pollution because properly disposed of garbage goes into landfills or incinerators.
Twenty-seven cities in Washington already regulate plastic bags, and some lawmakers see a statewide ban as a logical extension of those policies. However, this is one more example of Western Washington trying to control Eastern Washington. Only one of those 27 cities – Ellensburg – is east of the Cascades.
Eliminating single-use plastic bags and charging for other bags will achieve little change in global pollution while imposing significant costs. In the beach cleanups conducted by the Ocean Conservancy during 2017, the most plentiful type of plastic pollution was cigarette butts. Cleanup volunteers picked up more than
The irony is that by banning plastic bags, politicians
Backers of a ban tout reusable cloth bags, generally made of cotton, as a prime alternative. Cotton production is linked to water pollution, with
Advocates of banning single-use plastic bags cite their low recycling rates. Those statistics fail to take into account that consumers
It is true that plastic bags are difficult to recycle in the traditional sense. They clog the machinery at recycling centers and often wind up in the garbage. Emerging industries, however, are recycling those old bags into
Similarly, the six-pack rings invented in the 1960s to hold beverages are evolving into compostable,
The lesson is that the consumer market will work to address environmental issues, if we let it.
It is noble that politicians want to do something about plastic-bag pollution. But lawmakers should temper their fervor with an understanding of the full implications.
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