Bag Ban: Risks and Benefits

Daniel Gultom, Staff Writer

On September 30, Governor Jerry Brown approved a law, active as of July 2015, that would put major restrictions on the use of “single-use” plastic bags in stores all around California. California will be the first in the United States to impose this type of law on the entire state. However, numerous cities across America have already implemented similar restrictions on plastic bags, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and Chicago.

The passing of this bill was said to be a major success for environmentalists who believe that plastic bags cause excessive CO2 emissions, pose a burden to already substantially growing landfill, and cause numerous animal deaths every year, therefore negatively impacting Earth’s sustainability. The ban is said to be an effective solution for the issue, as it will reduce the quantity of plastic bags to be produced and thrown away into landfills by prohibiting the use of plastic bags at the point of sales.

Although the approval was celebrated by some, it comes as no surprise that the bill sparked controversy among others. Part of it is because it makes stores obligated to charge at least $0.10 to sell a recycled plastic bag, causing some to call the bill hypocritical with the goal of environmental well-being in mind, and even others to argue that the government is attempting to breach the boundaries of economic freedom of store owners. Also, “single-use” plastic bags are often used more than once. Many households reuse them for secondary tasks, such as trash bags and lunch sacks, and by doing so, reduce the number of other plastic products like trash bags that go into landfills, and save themselves a substantial amount of money in the process.

But one of the most significant arguments brought to the table by those who oppose this bill is the major economic impact that this ban will have. California is the largest state by both population and economy (GDP), and banning plastic bags could cause many working in plastic companies to be unemployed as a result of the plummeting demand.

Regardless of the opposition, Senator Alex Padilla (D), one of the original writers of the bill, said, “… this will reduce the amount of plastic in our waste stream … We’re not talking about eliminating jobs. These companies are transitioning, workers will be re-trained, and the impact on consumers … will be a quick adaptation for the general public. But to use the arguments that we may risk a couple thousand jobs … respectfully, is like arguing that we shouldn’t reduce tobacco consumption on the state because of the impact on cigarette manufacturers or wholesalers and distributors.”

In the end, there are plenty of valid arguments for whether or not this bill will be worth the risk for the general population. Some say that plastic bags only make up a miniscule portion of landfills, and that this bill will not significantly change the environment for the better and will only cause the loss of jobs. But, others say that because California has been the first to act as a whole state, others will follow in its example to pass similar laws and find other ways to create a more sustainable future.