U.S. Study Shows That Single-Use Plastic Bag Bans Work

By Howie Goldfinger, CEO, Ecorite

A recent study published by the Frontier Group, a non-profit organization in the U.S established to provide information and ideas to build a healthier, more sustainable America, gives us some of the first documentary evidence showing that well-designed single-use plastic bag bans reduce waste and litter in communities that have implemented such bans.

The report, written by Louis Sokolow, of the Frontier Group, along with Celeste Meiffren-Swango of the Environment America Research & Policy Center and Jenn Engstrom of the CALPIRG Education Fund, shows that single-use plastic bans in five states and cities that cover more than 12 million people combined have cut single-use plastic bag consumption by about 6 billion bags per year.  This is an astounding figure given the small scope of the bans.  The report goes on to say that other, similar bans have reduced the number of bags found in the environment in particular cities or states by one-third or more.

Ten states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – had some form of statewide ban on single-use plastic bags as of 2023 and bans in Colorado and Rhode Island went into effect on the first day of 2024.

Based on five studied plastic bag bans – in New Jersey, Vermont, Philadelphia, PA, Portland, OR, and Santa Barbara, CA, a similar policies can be expected to eliminate almost 300 single-use plastic bags per person per year, on average.

At Ecorite, we have long been advocates for such single-use plastic bags found in grocery stores and such.   In prior articles and essays, we have supported the scientific evidence showing that these products are harmful to life both on land and in the sea, where plastic bags are often mistaken for food and get ingested by animals where it ultimately kills them.   Moreover, we continue to learn that as these plastics break down into ‘microplastics’, they are poisoning all life on earth slowly and inevitably.

Ecorite applauded the Canadian government’s attempt to bring in similar legislation nationwide in Canada.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon what side of the argument you might fall on), the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the legislation was overreach on the part of the Federal government. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Federal Government’s labelling of all Plastic Manufactured Items (PMI) as toxic was both unreasonable and unconstitutional.  While it is understood that such everyday items like straws and grocery store bags are not patently ‘toxic’ since using them won’t kill you, there is mounting evidence that the toxicity effect, to our ecosystem and our own biome, is gradual.  This would suggest that any program designed to reduce their use is beneficial to us all.  Now, there is at least one study that shows that moving consumers to use more sustainable packaging is easier than thought and as beneficial as originally thought.

Even without government legislation, some enterprises have developed or implemented their own restrictions on single-use plastic bags or have implemented their own bag recycling programs, or even switched to biodegradable plastic bags.  For more information about the study, you can visit https://environmentamerica.org/center/resources/plastic-bag-bans-work/.