Paper or Plastic? Neither


Green Cities California (GCC) announced today the release of its Master Environmental Assessment (MEA) on Single Use and Reusable Bags. The MEA, commissioned by GCC and developed by ICF International’s Sacramento office, summarizes existing studies on the environmental impacts of single use plastic, paper, compostable and reusable bags, as well as the impacts of policy options such as fees and bans on bags. Meanwhile, proposed Minnesota legislation would tax plastic bags, adding to momentum against their continued use.“This is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive compilation of existing studies on bags aligned within the context of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), which makes it useful in the preparation of local Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs),” said Terry Rivasplata of ICF International.

“All Environmental Impact Reports must begin with a survey of existing scientific literature,” said GCC’s Carol Misseldine. “For those jurisdictions that must prepare an EIR in order to adopt ordinances that promote the use of reusable bags, this MEA will provide essential assistance.”

The MEA reviewed studies that document environmental impacts from the use of all four types of bags studied, including greenhouse gas emissions, persistent litter problems, marine life impacts, water consumption and ozone formation.  The report also examined the impact of fees and bans and noted that bag use drops dramatically – up to 90% — when stores charge for them.
Further studies referenced in the MEA indicate that reusable bags, on a per use basis, have substantially lower environmental impacts than single use bags.  The study finds that even with a minimum of three uses, reusable bags can result in less atmospheric acidification, ground level ozone formation, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’m getting calls from jurisdictions throughout California and even from other parts of the country interested in the information contained in this document,” said Misseldine. “There seems to be a lot of interest nationwide in reducing single bag use.”
“We’re not going to recycle our way to a sustainable society,” said Dean Kubani, GCC Steering Committee member and Director of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability. “We need to orient away from single use and towards durable products. We are confident that this report will provide the documentation local governments need to adopt policies that encourage the use of reusable bags and phase out single use bags.”

The full report, an executive summary and background information on the MEA are available on Green Cities California’s website.

The Minnesota legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Karen Clark, would impose a 5-cent excise tax on plastic bags. A Washington, D.C. tax on plastic bags appears to be reducing use.

One comment
  1. Shane King

    I am a Store manager for a Liquor store in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I made a decision 10 months ago to go Plastic bag free. My team only give out paper bags or Cardboard boxes. We have no plastic bags in the store at all. The feedback from our customers is very good. They all think it is great that we don’t have plastic bags.

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