One argument for plastic bag bans is that cities will save money by reducing the costs of litter collection, solid waste disposal and recycling. And in tight fiscal times when municipal budgets are strained, the argument is compelling.
However, a recent study by the National Center for Policy Analysis demonstrates that there is simply no evidence that plastic bag restrictions reduce these costs.
In 2007, San Francisco became the first city to restrict plastic grocery bags. City Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi claimed that each plastic bag cost the city 17 cents.
However, with plastic bags amounting to less than 0.5% of the waste stream and a similarly minuscule amount of landfill space, I calculated that the cost of clearing plastic bags from San Francisco’s streets, alleys and parks should be less than 7.9 cents per bag, not 17 cents — a considerable difference.
Even the 7.9 cents figure is suspect, because it assumes that each plastic bag is used only once. However, plastic bags are rarely used only once. People find a variety of ways to reuse them, long after unloading their groceries at home. They may line bathroom trash bins, collect dog waste and used cat litter, secure soiled diapers and more.
Still, all else being equal, the implementation of the 2007 ban should have somewhat decreased the costs of solid waste recovery, disposal and recycling. Yet the available data do not reveal such savings. Rather, San Francisco’s household garbage rates increased from 2005 to 2013 by more than 78.6%.
Well, to be fair, that probably has something to do with San Francisco’s insane goal of recycling every single bit of household garbage and trash.
But hey – as long as it makes the sinners feel guilty, and progtards feel virtuous, then…winning!