Get our free book (in Spanish or English) on rainwater now - To Catch the Rain.

Difference between revisions of "Arcata plastic bags/Final"

From Appropedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Line 410: Line 410:
=='''Challenges to Bag Policies'''==
===='''Interesting Anecdotes'''====
===='''Interesting Anecdotes'''====

Revision as of 00:24, 2 December 2010

ENGR308 Page in Progress
This page is a page in progress by students in Engr308 Technology and the Environment. Please refrain from making edits unless you are a member of the project team, but feel free to make comments using the discussion tab. Check back for the finished version on December 15, 2010.

Meta-team combine the collaborative work here.

Literature Review Synthesis

Existing Bag Programs: Summary and Some Results

Location Year Summary of program type Brief Results City Size
Malibu 2008/2009 Banning of single use plastic bags[1] ? Mid
San Francisco [2] 2004 An ordinance requiring a 17¢ fee on each bag provided at supermarket checkout counters. Nullified with the passage of California Assembly Bill AB 2449 - which requires all CA grocery stores to take back and recycle plastic grocery bags. Large
San Francisco 2007 Single use bag ban / still tweaking rules. 5c tax on paper bags? 50% reduction in bag litter, but this is contested, still tweaking rules.[3] Large
Palo Alto 2009 Supermarkets in Palo Alto are banned from offering single-use plastic bags to customers (although plastic bags can still be used within the produce and meat departments of the stores)[4] ? Mid
Fairfax 2007 A ban on plastic bags was adopted by the Fairfax Town Council in August 2007. Following threats of lawsuit from two plastic bag manufacturers, in November 2008 Fairfax voters adopted a plastic bag ban by initiative.[5] Mid
San Jose 2010 Ban on single use paper and plastic, unless paper is 40% recycled. Even recyc. must be purchased for 10c, going up to 25c in 2 years.[6] N/A Mid

L.A 2010 The Los Angeles bag ban has passed but will only go into effect if the state wide ban to implement a fee on shoppers who request plastic bags fails to go into effect.[7] N/A Large
Santa Clara County prop. 2011 Large

Telluride, CO 2011 Prohibits take out grocery bags, but not in store bulk and meat bags. N/A Small

Maui 2011 Plastic bag ban. Currently voluntary. [8] N/A Small
Brownsville, Texas 2011 Plastic Bag Ban/Tax. 1$ surcharge on transactions involving plastic bags.[9] N/A Small
American Samoa [10] 2011 Plastic bags illegal. Biodegradable and compostable plastic are OK. N/A Mid
Westport, CT 2009 Plastic bag ban. $150 fines for non-compliance of stores. Stores must supply alternate bags, including recyclable paper.[11] 70% increase in customer use of reusable bags. 600,000 fewer plastic bags have been used since the ban started. Mid
Bethel, AK 2010 Plastic Bag Ban[12] Voters overturned a similar ban just eight years before, after businesses rebelled. Small
Edmonds, WA 2009 Ban on plastic bags - all retail establishments Small
Outer banks, NC [13] 2009 Ban on plastic bags for large retail chains / big-box. ? Small
Baltimore, MD 2010 Bag reduction program. Reusable bags of minimum thickness. Reminder signs. Botched immplementation has led to delays. Ban went into effect, but city registry wasn't properly set up to enforce.[14] Large
Chicago, IL 2010 Recycling of bags at stores. City collects weights and costs to enforce compliance.[15] ? Large
Washington, DC 2010 5 cent bag fee on paper AND plastic. 5 cents a penny goes to the business, and the other four cents go into a fund to clean up the Anacostia River and it's tributaries.[16] Single bag use dropped from 22 million to 3m. The tax has raised $150,000. Many stores are reporting a 50-60% reduction in bag usage. The Anacostia Restoration Fund has collected approximately $1.3 million through September 2010. Local non-profits groups have reported a 60% reduction in the plastic bags present at watershed wide clean-ups. Large
NW Territories, Canada 2010 25c fee on bags. Regional distribution of reusable bags, 2 per household.[17] [18] Small
China 2008 Ban on manufacture of ultra thin plastic bags(less than 0.025 millimeters thick), ban on free giveaway of take-away bags, restaurants excluded.[19] One estimate only 15% compliance; 66% reduction, greater in foreign-owned firms than Chinese-owned.[20] NA
Ireland 2001? E$0.15 tax on plastic bags. 90% reduction in plastic bag use. Plastic bag litter accounted for 5% of national litter composition before the levy. In 2002 this number fell to 0.32%, in 2003 to 0.25% and to 0.22% in 2004. "Between January 2002 and April 2003 the number of "clear" areas (i.e. areas in which there is no evidence of plastic bag litter) has increased by 21%, while the number of areas without ‘‘traces’’16 has increased by 56%." [21] NA
Mexico City, MX 2009 Bans business from giving out non-biodegradable bags. Stiff legal fines and jail time.[22] [23]


? Large
Taiwan 2002 Prohibits "hypermarkets, supermarkets, department stores, and convenience stores from handing out free plastic bags."[25] This resulted in these stores either giving out free paper bags, selling thicker plastic bags (for the US equivalent of $0.03), or selling cotton shopping bags for slightly more. NA
South Africa [26] 2003 Ban plastic bags that are less than 0.03 millimeters thick, and retailers that are caught distributing them could face 10 years in jail, or a fine equivalent to $13,800. NA
Southern Australia 2008 Single-use plastic bags banned. Shops must supply reusable or environmentally friendly alternatives such as cornstarch or paper bags.[27] "Immediate, sustained reduction in plastic bag consumption. Showing a 79% reduction across the trial areas." 9 out of 10 shoppers take reusable bags compared to the 6 to 10 before the ban was established. Since October of 2008 400 million less plastic bags a year were consumed.[28] NA
Italy NA
Denmark NA
Baltimore, MD NA
Rwanda [29] A plastic bag ban prohibiting shops form distributing the bags to their customers, and "police are reportedly stopping plastic-bag users in the street." NA

Tanzania 2006 Any person who is caught selling or importing plastic bags that are less than 0.03 millimeters thick could face 6 months in jail or a fine of $2,000.[30] NA
Delhi, India [31] [32] 2009 Bans the bags which are most likely to become stuck in storm drains, which are less than 0.04 millimeters thick. Imposes fines or jail sentence in extreme cases. Bag ban failed 18 months after implementation. Too hard to enforce in city of 16 million, in country that is in the top ten plastic bag producers, basing a ban on policing rather than taxing or providing alternative materials. Large
Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, Canada [33] 2006 The town imposed a 3 cents levy on single-use bags, which was replaced by a ban the following April. It is said that because people had already switched to reusable bags, the ban went relatively unnoticed. Many retailers in the town like the bylaw because they don’t have to buy bags to give away, and they can sell reusable bags. Small

Bag Science: Embedded Energies and Plastic Bag Use

Embedded Energies of Different Kinds of Plastics

The following table is a summary of key indicators from a LCA study in the Handbook of Biodegradable Polymers[34]


LDPE - Low density polyethylene
PET - Polyethylene terephthalate
PCL - Polycaprolactone
PLA - Polylactid
PHA - Polyhydroxyalkanoates

Type of plastic Cradle to grave


energy use (MJ per Kg)

Type of wast treatment Green House Gas emissions

(kg CO2 per kg)

LDPE 80.6 Incineration 5.04
PET (bottle) 77 Incineration 4.93
PCL 83 Incineration 3.1
Mater-Bitm starch film grade 53.5 Incineration 1.21
PLA 57 Incineration 3.84
PHA 81 Incineration Not Available

Estimate of Energy Consumption by Plastic Bags in the Entire US, based on 500 Bags per Capita, per Year[35]

Producing 1 kg of polyethylene (PET or LDPE), requires the equivalent of 2 kg of oil for energy and raw material.
Polyethylene (PE) is the most commonly used plastic for plastic bags.
Burning 1 kg of oil creates about 3 kg of carbon dioxide.

In other words: Per kg of plastic, about 6 kg carbon dioxide is created during production and incineration.[36]

  • Per two plastic bags manufactured the following energy is used:
Energy used by Resource percentages
990KJ of natural gas 71%
240KJ of petroleum 17%
160KJ of Coal 12%
1390KJ total 100% total

Estimate calculation:

Energy used to manufacture 2 plastic bags (kWh):


Energy used for one plastic bag:


U.S. plastic bag use Translated into Energy Equivalent:

U.S. per capita use of plastic bags used is estimated to be 500 [37]

0.193kwhr*500 bags*300 million people=29 x 109kWh of energy per year

Embodied Energy Analysis - Plastic vs. Paper

The following table comes from the Boustead report, a life cycle analysis of paper and plastic bags conducted in 2007. The report was prepared for the Progressive Bag Alliance, and was conducted by Boustead Consulting and Associates. The report was reviewed by a professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University [38].



Plastic Bags Paper bags

with 30% recycled content

Total energy used in megajoules 763 2622
Fossil fuel use in kilograms 14.9 23.2
Municipal solid waste in kilograms 7.0 33.9
Greenhouse gas emissions in C02 equiv. tons 0.04 0.08
Fresh water usage in gallons 58 1004

Challenges to Bag Policies

Interesting Anecdotes

  • Plastic bag bans in San Francisco and other areas have resulted in most people simply switching to paper bags. It has also resulted in law suits, and in Oakland the ban was overturned by plastic industry plaintiffs who argued that a plastic-only ban was illegal since there were no studies on the effects of increased paper bag usage. This illustrates that "plastic-only bans have proved vulnerable to legal challenges," and that if the end-state is supposed to be a complete shift to reusable bags, then there is no reason to leave paper bags out of a bag ban, especially since it renders the ban legally unstable.[39]
  • In 2 years, all 11 states which attempted to ban single use plastic bags failed.(AWAITING citation), while small community bans and blanket federal bans around the world seem to have better results.
  • The Bethel, AK example shows greater success when the community is ready and on board. In 2009 Bethel, Alaska banned plastic bags and takeout containers. Just eight years prior, voters overturned just such a ban, after an uproar from businesses. Now, with reports of plastic bags littering the tundra, in the city as well as the surrounding areas, advocates say that this time the people are ready for it.[40]
  • New Delhi example show that basing the implementation of a ban on policing a large population is not effective. Their bag ban failed 18 months after its implementation. It was too hard to enforce in a city of 16 million, in country that is in the top ten plastic bag producers, and basing a ban on policing rather than taxing or providing alternative materials. [32]

Significant Interest Groups Against Bans

  • Bag manufacturers: cite paper as being just as bad for the environment, and bans create job losses in their industry.
  • Small businesses: can be expensive to implement
  • Consumer groups: inflated grocery bills, California expanding deficit
  • American Chemistry Council (ACC): think plastic bag ban is irrelevant, desire more efforts towards recycling[41]

Arguments Against Bans

  • It will increase consumer and retailer costs[42]
  • Concern about the lack of availability and quality of compostable bags[43]
  • The production of paper bags is more damaging than the production of plastic bags-the ban will do more harm than good[44]
  • Freedom of choice: Can people be told how to bag their groceries?
  • It's easy to forget your re-usable bags
  • Banning plastic bags creates job loss
  • Plastic bags are recycled

Environmental Justice Issues

The environmental justice movement was begun in recognition of the fact that: "Environmental regulations have not uniformly benefited all members of society. People of color (African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans) are disproportionately harmed by industrial toxins on their jobs and in their neighborhoods. These groups must contend with dirty air and drinking water- the byproducts of municipal landfills, incinerators, polluting industries, and hazardous waste treatment storage, and disposal facilities."[45] Environmental justice issues also cross international borders. Many cheap products we buy in the United States are manufactured in countries that do not have stringent, or any, environmental regulations. Thus, the populations of those exporting countries are bearing the external costs associated with the production of materials we consume. Most plastic shopping bags are made in countries with lax environmental regulations, like China. [46]

Human Health Effects

  • Plastic bags can contain toxic metals (cadmium and lead) which can leach out and contaminate food [47]
    • Cadmium can cause vomiting and heart enlargement in low doses[47]
    • Lead may cause degeneration of brain tissues with long term exposure [47]
    • Polythelyne is used in the production of plastic bags and may be a carcinogen [48]
  • Plastic bags improperly disposed of clog drains, which can be the cause of floodin, which leads to water borne diseases[47]
  • When disposed of in the soil, plastic bags can prevent the recharging of ground water aquifers[47]
  • "The manufacturing of two plastic bags produces 1.1 kg of atmospheric pollution, which contributes to acid rain and smog" [46]

Environmental Effects

  • Plastics are readily combustible and when burned generate black smoke, decomposition, and volatilization products , that get incorporate into the environmental[49]
  • The plastic in the bags is environmentally stable, but the additives, their reaction and degradation products in the polymeric material can be released into the environment and into the fluids they contact, products, or food. The additives for plastics, that are released by leaching out and contact transference, have potential ecotoxic effects, mobility under conditions of use, have the possibility to accumulate in the environment or bioaccumulate in organisms,and can generate or release hazardous substances during disposal or under normal conditions.[49]
  • Plastic bags photo-degrade in land fills and the toxic particles in the plastic can enter the food chain if animals consume it[50]
  • Many animals mistake plastic bags for food, which can kill them. If these animals do die, their body will decompose and the plastic will stay intact, which can potentially kill another animal[51]
  • Every year over one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles are killed from eating or getting tangled up in plastic. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean[52]

Urban Pollution

  • Plastic bags float into storm drains and waterways, which causes clogging
  • Plastic bags are non-biodegradable and difficult to recycle, they can jam machines during the recycling process [53]
  • In a clean up of the Los Angeles River, 43% of the total trash collected was attributed to plastic film and bags [54]
  • Retailers in California distribute 14 million plastic bags annually [55]
  • Much of the plastic bag waste moves towards the coast, Save the Bay in the San Francisco Area said that California taxpayers spend over $25 million in the cleanup of plastic bags[56]

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

  • North Pacific Gyre is a circular pattern of currents in the Pacific Ocean
  • It is roughly the size of Texas [57]
  • 80% of the garbage (bottles, toothbrushes, packaging material, etc.) is from land [58]
  • The debris is usually small and suspended below the surface of the water [59]
  • Charles Moore, the discoverer of the gyre, described the debris as "plastic-plankton soup" [60]
  • Plastic debris can be kill marine wildlife, including: marine mammals, turtles, birds, fish, and marine organisms
  • The effect on marine life could impair the livelihoods of people who rely on marine life for food or income [61]
  • Plastic particles contain toxins, for example bisphenol A (BPA), polyvinyl choloride (PVC), and other chemicals that can seep into the water and cause negative health effects to both wildlife and humans [62]

Impact on Developing Nations and Disempowered People

  • In 2005, a monsoon flood killed 1,000 people in Mumbai, India. The intensity of the flood was attributed to the amount of plastic bags clogging gutters and sewers. Mumbai banned plastic bags in 2002, but plastic is still a big problem in their community[63]
  • Bangladesh experienced similar flooding, which led to their plastic bag ban in 2002 [46]
  • Flooding creates stagnant water, which is the ideal habitat for mosquitoes and other disease spreading organisms that already attack developing nations [46]
  • In the year 2000, cows in Indian were dying from eating plastic bags that had been discarded, and in one town 100 cows a day were being reported as dead to to this phenomenon [64]
  • Tourism is being affected by the reduced aesthetic quality where bags end up [65]
  • Many landfills and waste incinerators are located in rural areas. These landfills can result in the seeping of toxic substances into the soil and groundwater. The smoke from burning plastics contains chemicals that can lead to serious health impacts [66]

Reusable Bags

  • Plastic totes may be more eco-friendy to produce than cotton or canvas totes that need large amounts of water and energy to create[67]
  • People may not desire reusable bags because of the expense, versus a free "disposable" plastic bag[67]
  • Some stores have started to use SmarTote reusable plastic tote bags that have a barcode tracking system that records how many uses the bag gets and enters users in contests for prizes[67]


  6. Notice of Availability from the City of San Jose
  8. County of Maui
  9. City of Brownsville
  25. Lan, San-Pui, and Jiun-Kai Chen. "What Makes Customers Bring Their Bags or Buy Bags from the Shop? a Survey of Customers at a Taiwan Hypermarket." Environment and Behavior 38.3 (2006): 318-32.
  32. 32.0 32.1 New Delhi bag ban fails
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 47.3 47.4
  49. 49.0 49.1 This information according to "Combustion Products of Plastics as Indicators for Refuse Burning in the Atmosphere" Berndr T. Simoneit, Patriciam Medeiros, and Borsym Didyk.
  53. Michael Mensah Wienaah (2007) “Sustainable Plastic Waste Management: A Case Study in Accra, Ghana”
  54. Lisa Boyle (2010) “Ten Reasons Why Single-Use Plastic Bags Blow” Plastic Pollution Coalition. Accessed 23 Oct 2010.
  60. Charles Moore (2003) “Trashed: Across the Pacific Ocean, Plastics, Plastics, Everywhere” <ita>Natural History</ita> Vol. 12 No. 9
  61. National Research Council (1995) <ita>Clean Ships, Clean Ports, Clean Oceans: Controlling Garbage and Plastic Wastes at Sea </ita>Washington DC: National Academy Press, pp. 51-55.
  62. Ira Zunin (2010) “Reduce use of plastics for better health, oceans”<ita> The Honolulu Star-Advertiser</ita> Accessed 24 October 2010
  67. 67.0 67.1 67.2 This information according the article "An Inconvenient Bag" by Ellen Gamerman. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern Edition). New York, N.Y.:Sep 26, 2008. p. W.1