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Plastic industry's view: Banning bags will hurt environment, Duluth's economy

Duluth is one of the most beautiful communities in Minnesota in large part because its citizens are responsible stewards of the environment. And while a recently proposed ordinance to ban plastic retail bags may sound like a win for the environment, data, science and facts around this kind of policy demonstrate it's really a losing proposition — for the environment and for the local economy.

In addition to the reality that plastic retail bags make up a tiny portion of our waste and litter, it is important to point out that — despite arguments from those trying to push quick, feel-good legislation — plastic-bag bans do far more environmental harm than good. The best way to reduce litter and waste is for all of us to work together to promote the recycling of plastic retail bags and to encourage residents to continue to reuse their bags.

Sure, banning plastic retail bags will make them go away. But what will they be replaced with? For a policy that purportedly will help the environment, citizens of Duluth should know that regulations on plastic retail bags often result in greater plastic consumption. Remember, thicker plastic bags qualify as "reusable," and these bags often contain up to six times more plastic than the thinner plastic bags that most stores in Duluth currently use.

Moreover, all the folks in Duluth who reuse their plastic retail bags as trash-bin liners would be forced to buy bigger, thicker plastic bags.

When Austin, Texas, banned plastic retail bags and retailers switched to thicker plastic "reusable" bags, it resulted in more plastic waste in landfills. In California, where plastic retail bags 2.25 mils thick or thinner were banned, an increase resulted in the total amount of plastic used because consumers used thicker plastic bags.

Traditional "reusable" grocery bags are also not reused as much as people think. A recent study found folks use them less than 15 times, when they have to be used much more than that to offset the environmental damage done by producing these thicker plastic bags. The study also found that consumers said they forgot their reusable bags upwards of 40 percent of the times they went grocery shopping. A reusable cotton bag? They need to be used 131 times before they are a better option for the environment than a plastic retail bag reused only once.

The plastic bag recycling and manufacturing industry is at the cutting-edge of sustainability, and we applaud the city of Duluth for pushing for litter reduction. That is why banning plastic bags would be such a tragic mistake. Because of our efforts and coordination with local communities, polyethylene film recycling has increased 74 percent since 2005. One plastic retail bag manufacturer and recycler, Novolex, has up to 60 percent recycled content in some of its materials and operates two cutting-edge recycling facilities in the Midwest, including one in Wisconsin. More than 90 percent of people in the U.S. have access to plastic-bag recycling, and retail take-back programs have been extremely successful.

Educating the public on the importance of recycling will do much more in the long run to keep litter out of Duluth.

In addition to the environmental consequences, plastic-bag bans are nothing but negative for the local economy. A 2012 study showed that jobs and business sales migrated from regions with bag bans to regions close by where regulations weren't in effect. In Los Angeles County, stores required to implement a ban reported job terminations sometimes as high as 10 percent while their nearby competitors not required to comply with a ban added jobs. The hard-working small-business owners of Duluth have enough to worry about without the possibility of their customers leaving to shop in Superior.

Plastic-bag manufacturers and citizens of Duluth all agree on the importance of environmental stewardship, which is why a focus on recycling education is the best option. Bag bans have far-reaching unintended consequences and can do more harm to the environment than good.

Contact the City Council and voice your opposition to this misguided proposal.

Matt Seaholm is the executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (plasticsindustry.org/apba) in Washington, D.C. It represents 24,600 workers in more than 40 states. He wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.

GET INVOLVED

The League of Women Voters Duluth is hosting the screening of the film, "Bag It," followed by a q-and-a with experts on the issue of single-use plastic bag use.

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16

Where: Denfeld High School

MORE ONLINE

The Bag It, Duluth campaign's home page is at www.bagitduluth.org

Bag it, Duluth is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BagItDuluth

The League of Women Voters Duluth is at www.lwvmn.org/league-women-voters-duluth

The American Progressive Bag Alliance is at www.plasticsindustry.org/apba

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