Bag It Up: Why the Dallas City Council Should Say No to Banning Plastic Bags

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At the grocery store the other day, I remember being impressed by how many things the clerk was able to stuff into a single plastic bag. Carrying it out, I marveled at the little bag’s strength and resilience.

Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway, chair of the council’s Quality of Life & Environment Committee, isn’t nearly so impressed. In fact, because a few local residents can’t or don’t want to dispose of their single-use plastic bags like everyone else, the councilor wants to ban the bags outright.

That’s a silly, knee-jerk “solution” to an exaggerated problem. And it deserves to be treated as such when the full council votes as expected on the issue this month.

Outlawing plastic bags is a trendy cause with green activists stretching from Austin to Portland to San Francisco. They argue that these bags are a blight that use too much oil to make, kill wildlife, and pollute the landscape. But, as with many efforts by do-gooder social engineers to take away your free choice—see ex-New York Mayor Mike “No Big Sodas” Bloomberg—their pious claims are misguided or even bogus.

According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, plastic bags account for less than 0.5 percent of the municipal waste stream. In other words, the “blight” factor is insignificant.

Charges about bags destroying large numbers of marine mammals are similarly overblown. In fact, according to The Times of London, a landmark study found that plastic bags do not figure in most deaths where creatures are caught up in marine debris.

Moreover, plastic bags require less energy to produce than, say, paper bags. University of Oregon professor David Tyler, who has studied the issue, says, “If the most important environmental impact you wanted to alleviate was global warming, then you would go with plastic.”

Instead of acting like enforcers for some Lone Star-style Nanny State, city council members like Caraway should urge their constituents to consider this novel idea: Don’t litter. But that probably makes too much sense.