Plastic Bag Myths

Plastic bags are being demonized across the world these days, but most of the statistics given to justify bag bans and taxes are either misleading or just plain wrong. Below are some of the more popular myths about plastic bags, as well as some interesting facts.

Single Use

MYTH: Most proposed bag bans and taxes use statistics based on an assumption that plastic bags are only used once.

TRUTH: The vast majority of the population reuse plastic grocery bags at least once. As trash bin liners, for picking up after pets, as lunch sacks, holding wet laundry, etc. Plastic bags are also very easy to recycle, and most grocery stores provide bag recycling bins.

Recycling

MYTH:Recycling plastic bags is extremely costly and difficult.

TRUTH: Recycling programs are growing all the time, and plastic recycling can be a very simple, cost effective and energy efficient process. The main products currently made from recycled grocery bags is composite lumber and new bags. In some areas, plastic bags and other plastic film packaging, can even be included in curbside recycling.

Litter

MYTH:Plastic bags are a major source of litter, and banning or taxing bags will reduce litter.

TRUTH:Plastic bags make up less than one percent of all litter. Cigarette butts, fast food packaging, and food wrappers are much larger contributors. Banning one item that becomes litter does nothing to change the mindset of those that discard trash improperly. Many of the bags that end up as litter blow off of garbage trucks or out of landfills. Landfill operators and garbage haulers should be held accountable for items that escape containment.
Since plastic bags are responsible for less than 1% of all litter, banning or taxing them will have no impact. The solution to litter is public education, recycling programs, and proper disposal.

Landfills

MYTH:Landfills are overflowing with plastic bags.

TRUTH:Plastic bags are easily recycled, but even if they do end up in a landfill, they take up a small fraction of one percent of landfill space. The average person uses about 326 plastic grocery bags per year, which by weight is about the same as a phone book or two. By comparison, the average person generates around 1500 lbs of waste each year, including recyclables.
The major contributor to landfills is paper products. Banning or taxing plastic bags would mean that more paper bags would get used, resulting in more waste going to the landfill.

Paper Bags are Better

MYTH:Many people believe that paper bags are a better environmental choice than plastic.

TRUTH: Paper bags, even recycled ones, require many times more energy to produce than plastic. Paper production and recycling also produces far more air and water pollution than plastic. And because paper bags weigh nearly 10 times that of plastic bags, they require 10 times the fuel to transport. Paper production is far worse from an environmental standpoint.

Paper bags can also be easily contaminated with oils, grease, and food waste that can contaminate entire batches of recycling. Plastic bags can be cleaned prior to recycling to eliminate contaminants.

Reusable Bags

MYTH:The prevailing environmental opinion is that heavyweight canvas, cotton, and polypropylene reusable bags are the best choice to replace plastic bags.

TRUTH:While these reusable bags are great for some uses, their environmental impact hasn’t been properly studied. Most are made in China, where health and pollution standards can be somewhat lax, and then shipped halfway across the globe to get to you.
Reusable bags also can’t be used for the myriad of things that disposable bags are used for. If disposable bags aren’t available at the checkout stand, people will purchase packaged bags for secondary uses such as trash can liners.