I was working at a grocery store when the plastic-bag ban was implemented in Fort Collins. In the beginning, it seemed that this policy would be beneficial. Plastic has long been maintained as the destroyer of the environment and the inevitable death of the ocean.
While plastic has a significant impact on the environment, banning plastic bags has more negative effects than positive ones.
Every year, plastic grocery bags account for a small fraction of the waste generated. Almost every other product in the grocery store is packaged in plastic. Plastic packaging and products are not included in the ban on plastic grocery bags.
Furthermore, as a result of the ban, stores that used to distribute plastic bags must now discard their bulk plastic bags, causing excess waste. The ban prevents stores from using their inventory.
According to a study by Columbia Climate School in 2020, plastic bags are typically made from high-density polyethylene or Low-Density Polyethylene. Both of these plastics are reusable and recyclable. Plastic bags are extremely lightweight and have a high carrying capacity. A ban on plastic bags would also cause a small financial burden on Colorado grocers since plastic bags are cheaper than paper or reusable alternatives.
In addition to the original cost, reusable bags need to be washed to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, using valuable fresh water. Reusable bags may be an environmental investment that some people are not ready to make. Those who were dedicated enough to own reusable bags, already do.
What is even worse, plastic bags are being replaced with paper bags. Paper bags have a significantly lower carrying capacity than plastic bags and take more energy to produce. A study by the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark found that an ordinary paper bag would have to be reused 43 times to match the environmental impact of a lightweight plastic bag. An increase in paper bag usage, such as one caused by a plastic bag ban, can lead to an increase in deforestation.
It is true that paper bags biodegrade, but paper biodegradation in landfills creates hazardous levels of methane, which contributes to global warming. Studies have also shown that the biodegradation process of paper and paper products slows in landfills.
According to an analysis by the Washington Post, paper bag production is responsible for 50% more water pollution and 70% more air pollution than plastic bag production, causing more danger to humans and the environment.
Banning plastic bags might seem like a good solution to Colorado’s waste problems, but the effect of a ban could harm a wide variety of individuals and communities. This is not to say that foregoing plastic bags in favor of paper or reusable bags is always a burden, but the decision must be made on an individual basis rather than implemented by the government.
There are some people who know how to recycle paper bags, while there are others who know how to wash reusable bags. For others, plastic bags are the best option, and it is wrong of the government to restrict this option. Getting rid of plastic bags only makes things worse for the people of Fort Collins and the environment.
Instead of banning plastic bags, the government could invest in research towards biodegradable plastic or a more streamlined recycling system, both of which are already undergoing research. In fact, multiple companies have already begun mass-producing biodegradable plastic bags, bottles, containers, utensils, and much more. Soon, any product made of plastic could potentially be replaced with an environmentally safe alternative. Rather than banning a necessary vice, Colorado could invest in creating the technology to make the problems of plastic obsolete.
Currently, the plastic bag ban affects Fort Collins, but there are ongoing discussions of implementing the ban across the entirety of Colorado, starting in 2023. It’s not too late for us to prevent this by informing the people and petitioning the City Council for a change.
Adriana Bassett lives in Fort Collins.
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