The Human Cost of Plastic Bag Bans… (Updated – new link added)

by Steve MacDonald

What are the unidentified costs of banning disposable shopping bags?  I’ve been speculating for months. In this video PERC Lone Mountain Fellow Jonathan Klick argues that the presence of harmful bacteria (in reusable grocery bags whose use is mandated after plastic bag bans are put in place) creates a health cost that has not been considered.  (Hey…I know I’m just chopped liver but I considered it. a few months ago ‘What could go wrong- LA Set to Ban Paper and Plastic.’)

And here, and here, and here, and here

Mr. Klick points out that about half the reusable bags of shoppers heading in for more groceries have some form of contamination, and that the human cost could be a doubling in the number of cases of food borne illness in humans and even death as a result.


Now if I can just get someone to tell me what the cost to the environment is (in water, electricity, and detergents) to wash these millions of bags after every trip to ensure people don’t get sick or die?


(Updated) One other human cost – Early on I suggested job losses from domestic plastic bag manufacturers that make single use grocery bags to overseas Asian companies that make the re-useable bags, but this report suggests another kind of job loss.  Stores inside the radius of the LA Bag ban have lost sales while stores outside it have seen some sales increases.  The result, according to the report, is lost jobs inside the ban area with smaller job increases outside of it.

Leave a Comment

  • Scott Morales

    Interesting. It reminds me of the diaper issue: disposable v re-usable. I have a relative that’s a crunchy crunch and she used to preach about the glories of re-usable diapers. However, she fell silent once she became a mother and had to clean the poopies several times a day. She also discovered that the cost of doing laundry (i.e.,electricity, water, detergent etc) actually did more harm to the pocket book and the environment than the disposables.

    • C. dog e. doG

      Liberal morals are a fungible commodity: it all depends on who’s the one that actually has to do the heavy lifting, just like filling out tax forms.
      – C. dog

      • From the pdf linked above…

        Paper bags…produce substantially more landfill waste. For an equivalent amount of groceries, single-use plastic bags produce 15.5 pounds of waste while paper bags produce nearly 75 pounds of waste.

        Paper bags also produce more greenhouse gases. Plastic bags generate 68 percent fewer greenhouse gases than composted paper bags. Plastic bags consume 71 percent less energy during production than paper bags.

        Reusable bags may be the worst of all. Such bags need to be used 104 times to be less polluting than plastic bags. However,such bags are
        used only 52 times on average.

        Which of course requires me to revisit this quote…

        “Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.”

        • C. dog e. doG

          I grin every time I see that quote. As you may know, I’m one cheap baastad, and have been known to reuse a plastic bag now and then. I never use paper bags. What would I rather do, pump a tiny bit more oil out of the ground to make a lighter, better to handle bag, or chop down a tree to make one out of paper. Simple choice for me … though they sure did light fires nicely just like those fish wrappers I used to buy back in the stone ages.
          – C. dog

  • C. dog e. doG

    I bet the actual greenest bagging option is plastic bags which after bringing home the bacon are used to stoke the fire to heat the hearth and warm the heart.
    – C. dog

    • All my research so far suggests that the evil thin film grocery bag is the best option in every respect, cost, impact before and after, jobs, health. Just goes to show you..,environmentals and other lefties are concerned about something but it is neither us nor our environment.

  • anthony

    Due to bag contamination you have to wash your bags on a regular basis. Hand washing a reusable bag in the kitchen sink is time consuming and more than likely will not be done. Throwing your reusable bags into the washing machine and then the dryer is probably the most convenient method to wash them. Add some cleaning agents.

    The Life Cycle Analysis studies that are used to analyze the impact to the environment of the different bag types (plastic, decomposable plastic, paper, and reusable) only analyze the impacts during the manufacturing process of each type of bag. They do not evaluate the impact to the environment of increased water and electricity use required to keep the reusable bag in a sanitary condition. If you consider water use and electricity use, the reusable bag more than likely in a bad choice.

    I did rough calculation, needs refinement, but machine washing and drying your reusable bags, once per month will add about $20 to your utility bills. Also you have to replace the bags every couple of years, so there is a cost there as well.

    • C. dog e. doG

      I’m as suspect about the moral play of crocheted hemp bags to cart groceries to and fro Whole Foods in my birkenstocks and black socks as the next skeptic, but there is no way washing and drying the bags adds $20/month, unless you are the reincarnation of Howard Hughes. More importantly, for those looking to make an impact on reducing the green bill, there are much higher payback things to do starting with home sweet home and the mobile rust bucket.
      – C. dog

      • Twenty bucks a year maybe for an individual, maybe more. Total cost in real terms for water treatment, sewer, septic, detergent, electricity costs all across that spectrum, any secondary impacts might find a path to higher costs, but 20 bucks a month would be a lot of bags.

        The releasable bags are not recyclable though, cost more to make, have a higher impact all around, take up more landfill space,…and most people wont wash them (higher health care costs.)

        • C. dog e. doG

          Tru, dat. I figure my plastic bags cost about $1/year before they go up in a puff of smoke. Tuff to beat that, even for those who hug trees as a form of wiccan foreplay.
          – C. dog

  • Pingback: Bette Midler California Bag Ban – No, It’s Not About Plastic Surgery — GraniteGrok()

  • Pingback: Proposed Plastic Bag Ban Will Be Bad For Portsmouth - GraniteGrok — GraniteGrok()

Previous post:

Next post: