Bag Bans Don’t Save Dollars

Today the NCPA released my new study, examining the claim that banning or taxing plastic grocery bags will save cities money.  I found no evidence that cities which have already enacted plastic bag restrictions have saved any money — and they have actually harmed the environment.  It seems that plastic grocery bags are the green alternative when choosing what type of bag to use to carry your groceries or other items.

Some results from the study are below:

Consumers choose plastic bags far more often than paper or reusable bags to carry their purchases. Compared to paper and reusable bags, plastic bags are lightweight, strong, flexible and moisture resistant. In addition, they are easy to store and reusable for multiple purposes. Despite these characteristics and their popularity, a growing number of municipalities and some states are enacting laws aimed at reducing the use of plastic (and sometimes paper) grocery bags.

  • Advocates have given a number of justifications for placing restrictions on consumers’ use of carry-out plastic bags.
  • These include concerns about the scarce resources used to create the bags, environmental harms when they are disposed of improperly, the visible blight of roadside litter, and the cost of disposing or recycling them.
  • However, an examination of the bag bans and budgets for litter collection and waste disposal in San Francisco, San Jose, and the City and County of Los Angeles, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; and Brownsville and Austin, Texas, shows no evidence of a reduction in costs attributable to reduced use of plastic bags.

Consider the County of Los Angeles.

  • A November 2010 Los Angeles County, Calif., ordinance outlawed retail use of thin-film polyethylene bags.
  • Los Angeles County faced significant spending cuts during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 budget years of more than $175 million and $35 million, respectively.
  • Budget cuts did not extend to solid waste collection or disposal.
  • Spending for solid waste rose 30.17 percent from the budget year 2006-2007 to 2011-2012, and projected spending rose 5.9 percent from 2011-2012 to the adopted budget for 2012-2013.

In the cities that have adopted bag bans, fees or taxes, there is little evidence so far that banning or taxing plastic bags will reduce waste disposal costs and save money. Those who make this claim must provide evidence to back it up, but they have rarely attempted to do so, and when they have, the evidence has proven questionable at best.

Comments (10)

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  1. Jacob says:

    Another populist fallacy disproved.

    • Sabal says:

      “In the cities that have adopted bag bans, fees or taxes, there is little evidence so far that banning or taxing plastic bags will reduce waste disposal costs and save money. Those who make this claim must provide evidence to back it up, but they have rarely attempted to do so, and when they have, the evidence has proven questionable at best.”

      If they have evidence, then they should show us!

  2. terry graham says:

    This isn’t about savings money, government doesn’t care about saving tax/rate payers money, this is all about parochial political agenda’s.

    • JD says:

      They definitely don’t care about saving money, although I do think that they believe they are saving the environment.

      • Dewaine says:

        Fundamentally it comes down to control. They think that the world would be run better by a handful of benevolent dictators. Telling people what bag they can use is just one step in that direction.

        • JD says:

          I don’t know that most of them wouldn’t change their mind given compelling evidence, although you are correct that their underlying philosophy is based on collectivism being good.

  3. Sabal says:

    “It seems that plastic grocery bags are the green alternative when choosing what type of bag to use to carry your groceries or other items.”

    This is an incredible and unexpected result.

    • Trent says:

      Not surprising, their environmental footprint has been well documented for years. The media just doesn’t want to show that part of it.

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