Plastic Bag Bans Don’t Save Cities Money

By NCPA, Special for USDR.

Plastic bag bans hurt the environment and do nothing to decrease costs, according to a new study from the National Center for Policy Analysis.

“Bag bans are bad for the environment,” said Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett.  “The alternatives – paper bags and reusable bags – use more energy, use more resources, produce more greenhouse gases and produce more waste and pollution than plastic grocery bags.”

“In short, plastic bags are the green alternative. They save money, and they save the environment,” Burnett added.

The study examined six cities 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:

  • San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007, claiming in part that the ban would decrease the overall amount of garbage collected. In fact, garbage and recycling rates rose more than 78.6% in the city between 2005 and 2013.
  • Spending for solid waste in Los Angeles County, whose bag ban became effective in 2011, rose 30.17 percent from budget year 2006-2007 to 2011-2012. Projected spending rose 5.9 percent from 2011-2012 to the adopted budget for 2012-2013.
  • Brownsville, Texas began enforcing bag restrictions in 2011. For the first two years of the ban, solid waste revenues and expenses have risen.
  • Washington, D.C. instituted a 5-cent plastic bag tax 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, not the plastic bag tax.

“None of the six cities I examined experienced any measurable savings from their taxes or bans on plastic grocery bags,” said Burnett. “Proponents of plastic bag restrictions who claim that restrictions will reduce cities’ solid waste costs should have to provide evidence to back up such claims, but this study indicates that they can’t.”

Moreover, advocates of bag bans insist that plastic bags harm the environment. In fact, plastic grocery bags are actually more environmentally friendly than alternatives, making up just 0.6 percent of all litter. According to the EPA, 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.


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 National Center for Policy Analysis’ (NCPA) E-Team. Burnett’s area of expertise includes topics that affect every American, such as government environmental policy, offshore drilling, global warming, endangered species and public lands.

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization, established in 1983. We bring together the best and brightest minds to tackle the country’s most difficult public policy problems — in health care, taxes, retirement, education, energy and the environment.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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