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Leo Price
Leo Price

Buy Small Plastic Bags

But a new analysis by a University of Georgia researcher finds these policies, while created with good intentions, may cause more plastic bags to be purchased in the communities where they are in place. The study was published earlier this year in the journal Environmental and Resource Economics.

buy small plastic bags

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That's because while plastic grocery bags are viewed as a single-use item, they often find a second use as liners for small trash cans. When these shopping bags are taxed or taken away, people look for alternatives -- which means they buy small plastic garbage bags.

"We know there is a demand for using plastic bags, and we know, if these policies go into effect, some bags will disappear or will become more costly to get," said Yu-Kai Huang, a postdoctoral researcher at the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. "So, we wanted to see the effectiveness of this policy in reducing bag usage overall."

Previous studies have looked at the effect of bag bans on plastic consumption, but not the combined effects of fees or a bag ban. An environmental economist, Huang used a new way to calculate the effect of either policy while also accounting for variables such as residents' income levels and an area's population density, both of which influence the amount of trash generated in a community.

Keeping in mind the second life that plastic grocery bags take on in many homes, Huang and professor Richard Woodward of Texas A&M University measured plastic trash bag sales in counties with bans or fees in place, and compared them to other counties without such policies. The selected counties were far enough away from each other to account for shoppers who might cross into a neighboring county to avoid the policy.

The study found California communities with bag policies saw sales of 4-gallon trash bags increase by 55% to 75%, and sales of 8-gallon trash bags increase 87% to 110%. These results echo earlier studies that also showed increases in sales of smaller plastic trash bags.

But while sales of small garbage bags jumped after policies were implemented, sales of larger 13-gallon trash bags -- the size often found in kitchen trash cans -- remained relatively unchanged. This further underscored the double life of plastic grocery bags, Huang said.

"Carryout grocery bags were substituted for similar sizes of trash bags before implementing the regulations," he wrote in the paper. "After the regulations came into effect, consumers' plastic bag demand switched from regulated plastic bags to unregulated bags."

The unintended increase in trash bag sales could also be measured by weight. By purchasing 4-gallon trash bags, plastic consumption increased by between 30 and 135 pounds per store per month. The sales of 8-gallon trash bags created an additional 37 to 224 pounds of plastic per store per month.

But, Huang noted, bag bans or fees could make a dent in plastic waste among high-volume stores. The study found that if a store generated at least 326 carryout plastic bags a day -- about 9,769 per month -- the policy would end up sending less plastic to the landfill.

It's important for policymakers to understand the unintended consequences of plastic bag bans or fees before implementing them, Huang said. And, if residents are reusing bags for trash cans, it can also affect the overall use.

Plastic film, which includes many types of bags and wrap, is everywhere in our lives. In part because of their convenience and abundance, though, plastic bags and wrap are often used in excess, wasted, buried in landfills or littered in our streets, natural areas and surface waters.

There are easy and cost-effective ways to reduce waste and recapture the benefits of plastic bags and wrap after their initial use. Individuals and businesses can reduce excessive use of bags and wrap, reuse them or recycle them. Industrial shrink wrap used in the packaging can be recycled and is in high demand by manufacturers as a raw material. Individuals, schools, non-profits, workplaces and communities can collect plastic bags and wrap for recycling or promote local recycling programs. One opportunity for involvement is through WRAP, the Wrap Recycling Action Project.

Many grocery stores offer durable, washable bags to customers at an affordable price. Using these bags on a regular basis can create less waste than paper or plastic, and washing them regularly removes dirt and germs. [exit DNR] has more information on which types of plastic bags and wrap can be recycled and which cannot. Non-recyclable plastic wraps include any wrap or bag that contained frozen food, pre-washed salad mix bags and bags labeled as degradable. Any plastic wrap, bag or film that is dirty or wet should also not be recycled.

Although some community recycling programs accept plastic bags and wrap in the curbside collection, the industry strongly encourages consumers to use drop-off locations instead. Plastic wrap, bags and film clog curbside recycling machinery and are difficult to separate from other materials. For now, the best option is to take clean, empty bags and wrap to a retailer or other drop-off site that offers a plastic film recycling bin.

Whether you are a business that generates a lot of plastic film or a consumer, there is a role for you. Learn how to do your part to build the economy, keep the recyclable plastic film out of Wisconsin landfills and put them back into productive use.

The DNR partnered with the American Chemistry Council's Flexible Film Recycling Group and GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition on a plastic film recycling initiative called Wisconsin WRAP: Recycling Plastic Film Beyond Bags.

This public/private partnership focuses on increasing the recycling of plastic film found in nearly every business and household to increase the recycling rate significantly. A 2012 DNR plastics recycling study concluded that Wisconsin could realize substantial economic benefits by recycling more of the valuable plastic film that currently ends up in landfills.

Recycling clean, dry plastic shopping bags, newspaper bags, wrap packaging and other plastic bags and wrap ensures that we continue to make full use of materials while conserving energy and keeping bags and wrap out of our landfills, streets and natural environment.

At the same time, plastic bags and wrap have a number of environmental impacts throughout their life cycle. These include greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from the process of extracting and refining petroleum or natural gas, the original feedstock for making new plastic. They also include impacts from improper disposal, as bags and wrap can clog gutters and sewer grates, endanger animals that mistake the plastics for food, and accumulate in trees, fences and other places where they become an eyesore. Plastics can take hundreds of years to degrade and can also interfere with proper moisture distribution and drainage in landfills.

Reducing, reusing and recycling plastic bags, film and wrap helps to lessen these negative environmental impacts while promoting the continued use of the plastics we have already produced in ways that benefit the community and spur economic activity. While some cities have imposed bans or taxes on bags, reusing and recycling bags and wrap recovers these resources and contributes to a supply of plastic wrap for use by industry.

While only about 12 percent of plastic bags and other film are currently recycled in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the demand for clean scrap film is quickly growing. Plastics are long-lived and, even after initial use, can serve as feedstock in a swiftly expanding manufacturing industry.

Products made from recycled grocery bags and other plastic films include new bags, composite lumber and playground equipment. Recycling plastic bags and wrap prevents the waste of resources, reduces the amount of material being buried in landfills, helps prevent litter and contributes to new jobs in Wisconsin.

Businesses across Wisconsin can also reduce, reuse and recycle plastic bags and wrap while taking the opportunity to build profits and create jobs. A 2012 report prepared for the DNR concluded that the plastic waste of Wisconsin businesses and workplaces, if recycled could be worth more than $41 million. Industrial film packaging alone was valued at more than $6 million.

Grocery stores, retailers and distribution centers generate the cleanest stream of plastic film and could benefit significantly by recycling this material instead of sending it to the landfill, potentially reducing disposal costs.

A growing number of plastic products claim to be compostable or biodegradable, including trash bags and pet waste bags. These products should not be placed in recycling containers for plastic bags because they will interfere with the recycling process.

In some cases, compostable plastics may be a preferred environmental alternative but the case is complex. These products are only compostable in industrial facilities equipped to handle them. They will not degrade completely in a landfill or backyard or typical municipal compost facility. In fact, because composting is an aerobic process and requires oxygen, nothing "composts" in a landfill. Instead, in the landfill, such waste breaks down to generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Stores are not required to charge for small paper bags (bags smaller than 882 cubic inches). However, all paper bags must meet the 40% post consumer recycled content or wheat straw minimum and be labeled with this percentage on the bag.

As Washington transitions away from single-use plastic bags, we will continue to provide technical assistance, education, and outreach materials to businesses and the public. We collaborated with local governments, retailers, business associations, and non-profits to begin this effort, and have developed a bag ban outreach toolkit that is formatted for accessibility and available in 17 languages. 041b061a72


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