In recent weeks, proposals to ban single-use plastic bags have cropped up in several tri-county cities. San Luis Obispo’s ban has already ticked off a lawsuit, and similar proposals in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria threaten to do the same, costing taxpayer money while doing little to nothing for the environment. These bans amount to “greener than thou” grandstanding from enviro-cred-hungry city politicians. They are a bad idea for three reasons:
• They do not necessarily reduce plastic bag use. Most consumers re-use those plastic bags for a variety of odds and ends at home. It’s doubtful they’ll stop using plastic bags for things like lining the bathroom waste basket, so forcing them to buy new plastic bags rather than re-using free ones provides no overall environmental benefit.
• They do not prevent litter. The kind of people who let their plastic bags litter our streets, beaches or oceans are the kind of people who will also let their chip bags, soda cans and Styrofoam cups go, too. A bag ban won’t reform them.
• They hurt small businesses. Restaurant owners worry that hot soup could leak from paper bags and lead to lawsuits. And any switch is tougher to absorb for mom-and-pops than big chains, despite efforts to create two-tiered rules.
Plastic bags and the tons of waste that pours into landfills because of them are a legitimate issue. But the best way to deal with it is a statewide ban that phases in a biodegradable alternative over a number of years. In the meantime, these bag bans hurt small business in exchange for dubious benefits.