April 8, 2014 (PBBR) - There are now approximately 163 jurisdictions across the U.S. which have adopted various forms of plastic bag regulations. The big question is: Do plastic bag bans work?
We were curious. So we did research to find the answer.
We looked at five of the top bans in the country where results were reported by each jurisdiction. Of those five, one was a county, two were municipalities, and two were fee-only regulations.
Let's start with the city of Washington, D.C. since, from the five, they were the earliest adopter of plastic bag regulations. The city didn't ban plastic bags, but instead, implemented a five cents charge on both plastic and paper bags. The law took effect on January 1, 2010.
The fee was to be deposited into the Anacostia River Clean-Up and Protection fund. The Anacostia River flows through the nation's capital and had become so polluted, there were at least two volunteer entities and two government agencies dedicated to stopping and cleaning up the pollution.
Three years after implementation of the fee, in January of 2013, the city contracted for a private firm to survey residents and businesses to find out how the fee had affected the community.
The results of the survey showed that 80% of the residents have reduced their usage of disposable bags since the law went into effect. Furthermore, 80% of those surveyed said they are carrying reusable bags with them when they shop.
Businesses surveyed reported a 50% reduction in bag use on average and a 40% increase in the number of customers bringing their own bag. 80% of the businesses reported fewer bags provided to customers. (1) The fee worked.
The City of Santa Monica, California passed their plastic bag ban on February 8, 2011 and enforcement began on September 1, 2011. The City Staff estimated that approximately 26,000,000 plastic bags were given out each year by city merchants.
According to the City of Santa Monica's Sustainable City Report Card 2012, implementation of the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ban eliminated 21,000,000 plastic bags from circulation throughout the city. (2) This is an 81% reduction in plastic bag use by retailers. The ban and fee worked.
Los Angeles County, California banned plastic bags in November, 2010 and implemented the ban January 1, 2012. The city reported in December, 2013, that the ordinance had resulted in large stores continuing to maintain over a 90% reduction in single-use bag usage. Plastic bag usage prior to adoption of the ordinance was 2.2 million annually. (3)
San Jose, California implemented their single-use bag ban in January, 2012. The regulations affected all retailers and no disposable bag of any kind could be given to a customer. The only type bag that could be used was a recycled paper bag and the merchant must charge a ten cents fee for the bag.
On November 20, 2012, in a memorandum to the Transportation and Environment Committee, Kerrie Romanow, Director of Environmental Services stated that the ordinance had an observable effect on the reduction of plastic bags in the environment. The various litter surveys demonstrated a reduction of bag litter of approximately 89% in the storm drain system, 60% in the creeks and rivers, and 59% in city streets and neighborhoods, when compared to data collected from 2010 or 2011 (pre-ordinance) to data from 2012 (post-ordinance). (4)
The last of the five to implement plastic bag regulations was Boulder, Colorado. Enacted on July 1, 2013, the city of Boulder decided to not ban plastic bags but to place a ten cents fee on disposable bags - plastic or paper. The fee is only in effect at the city's grocery stores.
On March 10th of this year, Boulder's Business Sustainability Specialist, Jamie Harkins, reported that the Disposable Bag Fee had resulted in a 68% reduction in the use of disposable bags. Estimates show that grocery stores have used almost five million less plastic and paper disposable checkout bags during the first six months after the fee went into effect.
In summary, these five jurisdictions that have implemented plastic bag regulations have documented proof that they work. There is more data available but here we have answered the question "Do Plastic Bag Bans Work?" Yes they do.
(1) DDOE/Alice Ferguson Foundation: DC Residents and Business Bag Use Surveys
(2) Sustainable Santa Monica: Sustainable City Report Card 2012
(3) L.A. County Government: About The Bag
(4) cawrecycles.org: San Jose Update Memo