Single-use plastic bag ban will not help, environmental risk specialist says
A proposed state-wide tax on single-use plastic bags currently stalled in the Illinois Senate, along with unenacted bans on the bags, needs to remain that way, an environmental risk specialist said during a recent interview.
"I do not support it," Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Angela Logomasini, who specializes in environmental risk, regulation and consumer freedom, told the Prairie State Wire. "Plastic bag bans deprive consumers of a product they want while failing to achieve promised environmental goals."
The bags are popular because they are lightweight, easy to carry, sanitary and don't fall apart if they get wet, Logomasini said.
"They also consume far less energy than alternative packages," she said. "All these attributes mean that not only do plastic bags cost less, they require less energy to make and transport, and they take up less space in a landfill. If people are concerned about plastics litter, they should focus on that problem with litter-control policies rather than banning useful products."
While no bag ban appears to be pending in the Illinois legislature, taxes on the bags are in place and moves have been made to levy more taxes on them. Last fall, Illinois 30th District Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills) filed an amendment to Senate Bill 1597 that would levy a minimum tax of 5 cents for single-use carryout bags at all retail establishments in the state. The amendment would cover paper and plastic bags and would preempt home rule county regulation of carryout bags.
Illinois's 30th state Senate District includes all or parts Beach Park, Buffalo Grove, Green Oaks, Lincolnshire, Mundelein, North Chicago, Riverwoods, Wheeling, Vernon Hills and Waukegan.
SB 1597 has been in "sine die" status in the state Senate since Jan. 9, meaning no date for further meetings or hearings has been scheduled.
Logomasini is not the only industry specialist who doubts how green single-use plastic bag bans really are, but the bans do have their proponents. Earlier this month, the National Conference of State Legislators issued a report that said plastic-bag-use reduction would mitigate "harmful impacts" in the world's oceans, rivers, lakes and forests, in addition to reducing pressure on landfills and waste management.
The closest Illinois has come to a plastic bag ban, prior to the proposed SB 1597 amendment, was passage of House Resolution 1139 in 2016, which established "Recycle Thin Film Friday" to reclaim plastic shopping bags and to encourage Illinois consumers to develop the reusable-bag habit. It is not clear what effect that resolution has had in the state, but it certainly has garnered little attention since its passage.
Later that same year, Chicago enacted its "Checkout Bag Tax" of 7 cents per bag used in retail sales and at checkouts in the city.
Bag bans in particular increase pressure on the environment that ban proponents often say they are trying to reduce, Logomasini said.
"Research demonstrates that alternative products use significantly more energy over each product's lifecycle," she said. "Studies show cloth bags must be used more than 100 times before they yield environmental benefits, which is likely far more uses than most people get before they lose or toss the bags. Paper bags are not an easy answer either. Another study reports that plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy during production and generate 80 percent less solid waste than paper bags."
Potential health risks from using cloth bags are "even more alarming," Logomasini said.
"In fact, university researchers have found significant amounts of potentially deadly coliform and E. coli living in used cloth grocery bags," she said.
A ban in Illinois would invite those impacts, Logomasini said.
"Many small businesses that sell and distribute plastic bags would be put out of business and their employees would be out of a job," she said. "And if some companies switch to selling paper bags, it won't be easy. One distributor told me that paper bags consume four to eight times the space. That means they require warehouse space for storage and more trucks for distribution. And that means (it) requires fuel to distribute the same number of bags, more traffic and more wear and tear on city streets."
A ban also could cost Illinois money, Logomasini said.
"It won’t save the state any money, but it could increase road-maintenance costs if more trucks and trips are necessary to distribute alternative products," she said. "And it could increase disposal costs because it increases the volume of waste that will be collected and disposed of in landfills."