“The Crusade Against Plastic Bags “By: Kenneth Green and Elizabeth DeMeo
Published by the Frasier Institute
Green, Kenneth P., and Elizabeth DeMeo. “The Crusade against Plastic Bags.” Fraserinstitute.org, 2013.Web.
“Environmental activists note the production and decomposition of plastic bags emits greenhouse gases and other pollutants at every stage of a plastic bag’s life (New York Times, 2007). This, however, tells less than half of the story, as most analyses of bag impacts don’t consider the costs and benefits of plastic bags relative to alternatives.
A study released in 2011 by the Environmental Agency of England helps put environmental impact claims in perspective. In Evidence: Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags, researchers offer a “cradle-to-grave” review of seven different types of grocery store bags: conventional lightweight plastic bags; plastic bags treated with a chemical to speed its degradation; a lightweight bag made from a biodegradable starch-polyester blend; a regular paper bag; a heavy-duty “bag for life” made from low density polyethylene (LDPE); a heavier duty polypropylene bag; and a cotton bag (Edwards and Meyhoff Fry, 2011).
The researchers compared the environmental damage done by the bags using a number of indicators of environmental impact, including global warming potential, acidification, eutrophication, human toxicity, and others. They found that the conventional plastic bag had the lowest environmental impact of the lightweight bags in eight out of nine impact categories and that biodegradable plastic bags had even larger environmental impacts than the regular kind. Paper bags performed poorly on the environmental impact tests, and the study found that they must also be used four or more times to match the global warming potential of the plastic bags. In sum, cotton bags were found to have a greater environmental impact than the conventional bags in seven of nine categories, even when used 173 times—the number of times needed for its global warming potential to be on par with that of a plastic bag.”
In this podcast I will discuss the effectiveness of reducing the environmental impact of consumers by evaluating the policies for plastic bag reduction. Plastic bags have been proven to have an impact on wildlife, natural scenery and waste management. However the alternatives the policy is encouraging are not much better. Alternatives such as paper bags, biodegraded plastic bags, or cotton fabric bags are far from being good alternatives because of costs associated with them and additional environmental impact they are proven to have.
Globalization has opened up the policy window in local governments for environmental policy issues to reach the political agenda. In North America alone I’ve seen several initiatives implemented to protect and sustain the environment for a better future. In the last couple of years the Plastic Bag Policy has been a popular policy being implemented in many cities across the world in an effort to limit the uses of plastic bags. In order to combat this problem the Canadian government introduced a plastic bag policy imitative. Here in Canada, provinces including Alberta, BC, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and PEI have taken a variety of steps to limit plastic bag usage.
The plastic bag policy is a public policy imitative implemented for the purpose of limiting the use of plastic grocery bags in order to sustain a healthy environment (Bank, 2008).The policy’s main intent is to lower the use of plastic bags by encouraging the use of biodegradable, reusable or cotton bags. But how effective has the policy really been? In order to evaluate the policy it’s important to look at the five main initiatives that have been introduced by the government to lower the use of plastic bags by consumers.
“Life Cycle Assessment for Three Types of Grocery Bags – Recyclable Plastic; Compostable, Biodegradable Plastic; and Recycled, Recyclable Paper”. In this study standard plastic bags were found to have a significantly lower environmental impact than thirty percent recycled content paper bags and compostable plastic bag. These study results support the conclusion that the plastic bag policy has been ineffective because the costs are seen to outweigh the intended benefits of the policy. Plastic bag reduction initiatives have proven to be counterproductive causing significant increases in environmental impacts across a number of categories from global warming effects to water resources. The report also showed that replacing plastic grocery bags with either paper or compostable plastic grocery bags actually increase the emission of greenhouse gases thus contributing to global warming concerns Global warming is considered to be a serious environmental problem and the plastic bag policy initiatives were implemented to help combat these problems. I think that before the implementation of the policy it should have been taken into consideration what environmental impact the alternative bags would essentially have on the environment.
By evaluating the policy and the outcomes it has had on the environment it is reasonable to conclude that this policy has been ineffective. Alternatives such as paper bags, biodegraded plastic bags, or cotton fabric bags are far from being good alternatives because of costs mentioned earlier. The studies presented in this paper indicate that the plastic bag policy initiatives have had an opposite effect on the environment. The policy that was intended to reduce plastic bag use is encouraging the use of alternatives that also have detrimental effects on the environment. In an effort to help the environment the plastic bag policy can be considered useful only if the policy aims to substitute plastic bags with more environmentally friendly alternatives. In other words, for the plastic bag policy to be effective the policy must be designed so that consumers are not encouraged to use alternatives that pose just as much of a threat to the environment. And the plastic bag policy in Canada has failed to do just that.