Carryout BagRegulations

Why Bans & Taxes Fail to Meaningfully Help the Environment

We often hear that carryout bag regulations are important to address valid concerns about how our society impacts the planet, particularly as it relates to waste generation and landfill space, litter in our streets, waterways, or wilderness, marine debris, and climate change overall.

While we all have a vested interest in tackling these shared challenges, data reveals that plastic carryout bags are not driving these issues. Compared with the clear impacts of alternative products, taxes and bans are more likely to exacerbate these challenges than they are to solve them.

Waste & Landfills

According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, all plastic bags and sacks combined account for just 0.3% of municipal solid waste.

This category includes everything from chip bags to trash bags to prepackaged produce bags. Plastic carryout bags are just a fraction of this fractional amount.

Further, research from Quebec’s recycling authority, Recyc-Quebec, found that approximately 77% of plastic carryout bags found in landfills arrive contaminated. This means consumers are reusing these products at home to pick up after pets, line bathroom wastebaskets, or other tasks—minimizing plastic carryout bags’ already small environmental impact and avoiding the need to purchase an alternative plastic product for the same task.

Litter

Plastic carryout bags should be reused as often as possible and always disposed of responsibly or, better yet, recycled through the store takeback program. Plastic carryout bags should never end up in our environment.

Litter surveys consistently find that plastic carryout bags account for less than one percent of items collected at clean-up events. Keep America Beautiful’s most recent nationwide survey of litter on roadways and in waterways found plastic carryout bags accounted for just 0.6% of items collected.

Given bags account for such a minuscule amount of litter, bans or taxes are unlikely to make a meaningful impact on the overall problem.

Marine Debris

Many activist organizations assert that bag regulations in the United States can help address issues of marine plastic, but the data shows these products aren’t a major component of ocean plastic pollution, and thus these policies are unlikely to make a meaningful impact.

Litter surveys consistently find that plastic carryout bags account for less than one percent of items collected at clean-up events. Keep America Beautiful’s 2021 nationwide survey of litter on roadways and in waterways found plastic carryout bags accounted for just 0.6% of items collected.

Given bags account for such a minuscule amount of litter, bans or taxes are unlikely to make a meaningful impact on the overall problem.

Emissions

Oftentimes activists point to climate change or emissions as reasons to restrict the use of plastic carryout bags.

However, studies examining the overall impact of various bags, including emissions profiles, consistently demonstrate that the plastic carryout bag is the one with the fewest environmental impacts—including when comparing emissions generated by their manufacture, transport, and disposal.

In fact, a 2022 study from McKinsey & Company confirmed this. Considering that paper bags are much heavier and require more raw materials to manufacture, the study found that plastic carryout bags have an 80% less greenhouse gas impact than these products throughout their lifecycle. Further, the study found that paper bags must be double-bagged 50% of the time due to durability concerns, leading to consumers using more bags than they would if using a traditional plastic carryout bag.

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ABOUT ARPBA

The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance (ARPBA) represents America's plastic bag manufacturers and recyclers. Founded in 2005, the ARPBA promotes the sustainable use, reuse and recycling of its products, advocates for sustainable, fact-based public policy and fights against taxes and bans that increase costs for stores and prices for shoppers.