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April 4 2019

Banning Plastic Bags in NY Won’t Save the Environment but Could Make People Sicker

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

New York is the second state in the nation to ban plastic bags and it won’t be the last.

This week, the NY legislature approved a state-wide ban of single-use bags from retailers and that will likely spark a wave of bans from other liberal states.

However, banning plastic bags is not the panacea they think it will be. It won’t solve their environmental pollution problems overnight, but it does pose serious health risks from outbreaks of viruses to potential deaths from foodbourne illnesses.

So why is the state moving in this direction? Good question.

New York’s ban forbidding grocery stores, big box stores, and most retailers from offering customers nonbiodegradable single-use plastic bags would kick in March 2020. (There are carveouts for food takeout bags, bags used to wrap deli or meat counter products, newspaper bags, garment bags, bags for bulk items, and bags sold in bulk, such as trash or recycling bags.)

Given how many carevouts there are we wonder just how much of this is really about stemming the pollution of plastic bags?

The ban is coupled with a 5-cent fee on paper bags that counties can opt into. This was an added measure both for revenue generation and to discourage shoppers and stores from simply shifting to paper bags instead.

Banning plastic bags could make New Yorkers sicker

Lawmakers want New Yorkers to use reusable bags even more than paper bags. The problem is that those reuseable bags can make people sick if not cleaned regularly -- and how many people actually clean them?

For example, a reusable grocery bag left in a hotel bathroom caused an outbreak of norovirus-induced diarrhea and nausea.

One study found that San Francisco’s plastic bag ban could result in 5.5 more deaths (a 46 percent increase) from foodborne illnesses each year. Harmful bacteria lurking in those bags also increased  salmonella and other bacterial infections.

Nevermind the healthcare costs incurred for treating these patients.

Plastic bags aren’t the environmental boogeymen they’re made out to be

As Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote a few years back,

“Far from being the environmental threat activists make them out to be, plastic bags are not particularly to blame for clogged sewers, choked rivers, asphyxiated sea animals, or global warming.”

An environmental study from 2009 that she cited showed that all plastic bags, of which plastic retail bags are only a subset, comprise just 0.6 percent of visible litter nationwide.

Higher figures for plastic bag impact in California, on the other hand, were attributed to unscientific information provided by volunteers picking up trash one day each year.

Plastic bag bans aren’t going away but they should

So far we’ve seen big cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle ban plastic bags while New York City, Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, Md., and Boulder, Colo., tax plastic bag use.

The momentuum is only building. At least 90 bills either banning or taxing plastic bags popped up in state legislatures. Other states are likely to follow California and New York's lead even though they shouldn't.

These plastic-bag bans are a means of government controlling the market and a small slice of our lives.

Plastic bags were developed as a cheaper alternative to paper bags in the mid-1980s. That saved people money.

Single-use plastic bags are actually not single use. Many housheolds, inlcuidng my own, reuse those plastic grocery bags as small garbage bin liners or to trasnort items in the future. I can’t use a recycling bag to store bathroom refuse one day and new meat and vegetables the next, can I?

The bigger point is that government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers among bags. Let consumers decide what’s best for them.

Before other states jump on the bandwagon, citizens need to really consider whether the nasty - potentially deadly - health risks, tax increases, and marginal environmental impact are worth it and push back when they hear that lawmakers want to control how they carry around food and goods.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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