States, about 100 billion plastic bags are distributed by retail checkout counters. It
takes approximately 35 million barrels of oil to produce them. Each year in San
Francisco, 180 million bags (requiring about 650,000 gallons of oil) are distributed through large retailers. As a consequence, we spend more than $8 million
sweeping bags from our streets, untangling them from recycling sorting machinery, scooping them out of our storm drains so our sewers don’t back up and, ultimately, dumping them
into the landfill. They contaminate landfills because they don’t break down in the environment.
Education and recycling programs have failed. We’ve had drop-off programs for checkout bags at
area supermarkets for more than 10 years, yet we collect less than 1 percent.
The ideal solution would be to charge a per-bag fee to cover the real costs of managing the waste
stream. This approach was successful in Ireland, Bangladesh, Taiwan and Paris. However, San Francisco
was prevented from doing this when the grocery lobby added a rider to an otherwise innocuous recycling bill that prohibited California cities from charging fees to recoup costs associated with plastic bags,
or even asking grocery stores how many bags they use. We needed another solution, so we looked to
our existing recycling programs.
San Francisco has the nation’s largest food scrap collectio n program. Every day some 300 tons
of leftovers from homes and businesses are collected and turned into compost, which is used on
area farms. Even so, the single largest component of our landfill is food scraps that could have
been composted. The most common reason residents give for not collecting food scraps is that it’s
messy. Under our new legislation, the “ick” factor is eliminated. Consumers will be able to neatly
package their food leftovers into compostable bags and slip them into their green curbside compostable collection cart. The cost of the compostable bag—slightly more than a paper bag—will
come down as this law proliferates.
San Francisco may have been the first American city to act on the problem, but we’ve heard from
New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and others. Local governments are beginning to realize they are
subsidizing the production of waste because producers know that, no matter what they manufacture and
distribute, local government—which means taxpayers—will foot the bill. That’s unacceptable. C
from experts in the field:
Ross Mirkarimi, a San Francisco supervisor ( www.sfgov.org/site/
bdsupvrs), wrote the city’s law banning plastic bags.
Should farm subsidies
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented
and are presented to foster discussion.
Costco and The Costco Connection
take no position on any Debate topic.
from experts in the field:
Sharon Kneiss is vice president, products divisions, of the
American Chemistry Council ( www.americanchemistry.com).
FROM SHOPPING LISTS to checkout lines, more and more consumers
are making choices with an eye toward the environment. But choosing
the option that’s best for the environment isn’t always as easy we might
think. Plastic shopping bags are a good example. Plastic shopping bags are
resource efficient, reusable and 100 percent recyclable. Banning them misses
Recycling plastic bags is a robust and growing industry across the United States, and the
number of programs that recycle plastic bags is increasing daily. Millions of pounds of plastic
bags are recycled each year into durable outdoor decking, low-maintenance fencing and new bags,
reducing the need to produce new materials. Measures that force retailers to replace recyclable
plastic bags would severely diminish many of these programs.
Reusing plastic bags is another form of recycling. Surveys show that more than 90 percent of
Americans reuse their plastic bags as trash can liners, lunch bags and pet pickups. Every bag that
is reused prevents consumers from having to purchase additional bags for these purposes.
Recyclable plastic bags are an extremely resource-efficient choice as they require 40 percent
less energy to manufacture than paper bags and require 91 percent less energy to recycle pound
for pound compared to paper. Additionally, the manufacture of paper bags produces 70 percent
more air emissions than manufacturing plastic.
It’s important to remember that paper and compostable plastic bags will degrade only in
professionally managed, large-scale composting facilities. Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has access to these facilities, so the majority of compostable and paper bags end up in a
landfill, or as litter.
Everyone wants a clean environment. Education and awareness are the keys to successful litter
prevention and increased recycling programs, not bans. Plastic bags are an essential product and
an environmentally responsible choice. For our part, plastic makers will continue to work hand in
hand with communities across the nation to educate consumers about proper waste disposal and
ways to increase plastic recycling. C