Bag Bans

Bans and taxes harm vulnerable communities like working families and seniors on fixed incomes. Often proponents say these policies are necessary to advance sustainability; however, data show they fail to help the environment in any meaningful way and often cause more significant problems.

Bans on plastic carryout bags increase costs for shoppers in a variety of ways. Plastic carryout bags are designed to optimize the right balance between durability and material use; it’s a big reason why plastic carryout bags are lightweight but can often more reliably carry more goods than a single paper bag. It also makes them a compact and affordable option for stores and shoppers alike.

Bans force stores and shoppers to switch to other products that are more expensive. America continues to grapple with a nationwide shortage of paper bags, the most common alternative to plastic. As a result, costs for these bags have skyrocketed—if stores can find them at all. With food prices continuing to climb from near-record inflation, these increased costs will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices.

In North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, businesses facing a ban on plastic carryout bags reported that switching to allowed alternatives could cost each store as much as $250,000 to comply. This aligns with reports from grocers in Maryland in prior years who said it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. These costs, which may not be recouped through the sale of reusable bags, will undoubtedly be blended into prices throughout the store, adding additional upward pressure to food prices.

Some policies require stores to only offer bags with “stitched handles.” Often sold near the checkout counter for a dollar or two, these costs can quickly add up for families who forget their bags. Extrapolating from the research into Toronto’s bag tax, it stands to reason that vulnerable families are more likely to have to repeatedly purchase these products—which is both expensive and unsustainable.

Often, the “stitched handles” standard is described as a ban on plastic bags. However, these alternative products are almost always made from plastics like nonwoven polypropylene, woven polypropylene, or polyethylene terephthalate. Less commonly, these products are made from nylon or polyester. Lifecycle assessments comparing the various impact of these plastic stitched handle bags to plastic carryout bags finds that consumers must use and reuse stitched bags an unrealistic number of times.

For example, one assessment estimated that a stitched bag made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate would need to be reused at least 98 times to have the same environmental impact as a plastic carryout bag. Research from the University of Clemson found that as few as 25% percent of consumers regularly clear the reuse threshold to make these alternative products a more sustainable option.

While bans will eliminate plastic carryout bags from the marketplace, forcing stores and shoppers to switch to alternative products with greater environmental impacts that are rarely reused enough to be more sustainable will not help our shared environment. Instead of counterproductive policies that increase costs on consumers, bag-related emissions, and environmental impacts, the industry believes in promoting the reuse or recycling of plastic carryout bags.