May 25, 2022

Plastic bags are bad. Ban them from being sold in supermarkets, and the problem is solved, isn’t it? Right? Right? It turns out, as is often the case, there could be more to this story. Researchers at the University of Georgia suggest that the plastic bag ban could have unintended consequences.

A new analysis shows that a plastic bag ban, while well-intentioned, could end up having the opposite effect. The problem is that while shopping bags are considered single-use items, they often get a (brief) second life as liners for small trash cans. Without shopping bags, people are looking for an alternative, i.e. buying smaller plastic trash bags.

Yu-Cai Huang, a researcher at UGA, said: “We know there is a demand for the use of plastic bags, and we know that once this policy is implemented, some bags will disappear or become more expensive.” Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “So we wanted to see the effectiveness of this policy in reducing the use of bags overall.”

Previous studies have looked at the impact of the bag ban on plastic consumption, but not the combined effect of the levy or the bag ban. As an environmental economist, Huang used a novel method to calculate the impact of both policies, as well as taking into account variables such as income levels and population density in an area, both of which were blown into the air. amount of waste. in the region of. The community is born.

Given that many households provide plastic shopping bags for Second Life, the team measured sales of plastic trash bags in provinces with restrictions or surcharges and compared them to other provinces where no such policy exists. The survey found that in California communities with a bag policy, sales of 4-gallon trash bags increased by 55-75% and sales of 8-gallon trash bags by 87-110%. These results are consistent with previous studies that also showed an increase in sales of small plastic trash bags. While sales of the smaller trash bags have increased since the introduction of the policy, sales of the larger 13-gallon trash bags — the size commonly used in U.S. kitchen trash cans — have remained more or less unchanged.

“Shopping bags were replaced by the same size trash bags before regulations were put in place,” the researchers wrote in the research paper. “After the regulation went into effect, consumer demand for plastic bags changed from regulated plastic bags to unregulated ones.”

Based on the average plastic bag drawer, most households use far more single-use bags than they need trash bags, so it’s fair to say that taxing or banning single-use plastic bags is a positive thing. But I thought it would be interesting to remind us that even the best plans can have unintended consequences; A truth that seems just as true in climate policy as it is elsewhere.

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