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Plastic Bag Ban Exposes Other Issues

01/02/2013

plastic-bagsRetailers, and in particular grocers, have been dealing with the prospect or reality of local ordinances banning the use of plastic bags for their customers.

When you stack the advantages of implementing a plastic bag ban against the disadvantages, one thing becomes clear – there really isn’t a good reason to oppose a ban of disposable plastic bags. The reality of plastic bags is that while they are in fact recyclable, only a small percentage finds their way into a recycling bin. Most plastic bags end up in landfills or as litter and no matter how you tabulate the numbers, plastic bags do not safely break down.

Unfortunately banning plastic bags has unintended implications.

Alternative Bags Options and Implications – Reusable grocery bags are becoming almost as ubiquitous as the single-use plastic bags they’re designed to replace, but the choices can be overwhelming. Canvas? Nylon? Tyvek? Hemp? Any bag that’s repeatedly reused is more environmentally friendly than single-use plastic, but the greenest choice isn’t always clear. Each material has pros and cons, and most are manufactured in China where environmental regulations are lax.

Ultimately the best alternative to the single-use plastic bag is the one shoppers are most likely to remember to bring to the store.

Grocers Losing Shopping Baskets – At City Market, the only store in town affected by a ban on plastic shopping bags in Carbondale, CO, customers apparently have been walking out with hand-carried shopping baskets and not bringing them back.

Hundreds of the small, black plastic baskets with double wire handles have gone missing since the ban went into effect May 1 a spokesperson for City Market.

“Prior to the ban, we didn’t experience a loss of shopping baskets,” the spokesperson said. “It is obviously a result of people who come in and are not prepared with a reusable bag or to pay a fee, and they have been using the baskets instead.”

Under the town ordinance shoppers can use their own bags, purchase a 20-cent paper bag or buy a $1 reusable bag.

Retailers Need to Make Alternatives Free

Conceptually a ban on plastic bags makes sense. The implications and alternatives make the benefits of the  ban a little less clear. Manufacturing alternative bags can leave an environmental impact and take jobs overseas. Retailers are making a mistake by charging for paper bags. There’s a simple solution: factor them into margin.

Clearly the burden is on the consumer. Be prepared to pay or provide your own bag. It’s that simple. Cars don’t come with free gas. Clothes don’t clean themselves. Take responsibility for the transport of stuff you buy…it’s not that tough.

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