Why is it that every time a liberal/progressive politician has some half-baked idea to “make the world a better place,” we all have to pay for it? Most of the time, the idea does not even accomplish the politician’s stated goals. Such is the case with Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Yolanda Avila’s proposed 10-cent fee on single-use plastic bags.
A bit of simple research on Google would have shown Mrs. Avila the error in her thinking. Let’s start with the improper moniker of “single-use” as it pertains to these supermarket bags. For most people, they are not “single-use” at all. Many people reuse these bags to pick up their pet’s waste or as trash bags in small receptacles in their homes.
A study by Rebecca Taylor, an economist with the University of Sydney, found that when these bags were restricted in California, sales and use of larger, thicker 4 and 8-gallon trash bags skyrocketed to compensate. Along with the larger bags, use of paper bags surged. Taylor estimated that approximately 80 million pounds of paper waste was a direct result of the restrictions on plastic bags.
But the reader might ask, “Isn’t paper trash better for the environment than plastic bag trash?” Nope. Producing those bags means cutting down more trees and using tons of water and polluting chemicals to create them. Plus, paper bags biodegrade at about the same rate as single-use plastic bags in landfills.
What about reusable tote bags? They, too, have their problems. According to NPR, a study by the U.K. government revealed that it would take reusing one of these bags 131 times to make up for the climate impact of single-use bags. A later study by the Danish government took other environmental factors, such as water use and ecosystem damage, into account and found that it would take reusing a tote bag 20,000 times to see an environmental benefit.
The science is clear that plastic grocery bags are not the environmental boogeyman Mrs. Avila believes they are. So, let’s turn our attention to litter. These bags do indeed make for unsightly litter in our city, especially along our waterways. However, according to the EPA, these bags actually only make up approximately 1% of visible litter and only four tenths of 1% of municipal waste. In California, a ban of single-use plastic bags resulted in a whopping two tenths of 1% reduction in plastic bag litter as a percentage of all litter.
Perhaps the worst part of Avila’s proposal, though, comes in the economic impact to supermarkets and consumers. When San Francisco banned plastic grocery bags in 2012, large grocery stores had to spend $80,000 more per year on more expensive options, and on the East Coast in 2019, that number ballooned to $200,000 per year. Such costs are inevitably passed along to customers.
Furthermore, a study by the University of Ottawa found that a 5-cent-per-bag fee in Toronto primarily changed the habits of more affluent consumers to use their reusable bags more often. Poorer families did not make the change, meaning that those hurt worst by the fee were those least able to afford it.
So, here is an idea for Councilwoman Avila. Rather than trying your social engineering experiment, start a plant that can recycle plastic bags in your district. You would actually be accomplishing something worthwhile when it comes to curbing pollution, and you would be creating a few jobs in the process. If you are financially unable to do so yourself, use your influence as a city councilwoman to lure someone else to build and operate it. In the meantime, keep your hands out of our pockets.
Tony Gioia is a Realtor, a youth leader in his church, and a former candidate for Colorado Springs City Council.