Bag Ban: Speak Out!

Background Info

NMEAC’s position: "Our analysis has determined that plastic bags are responsible for significant negative environmental impacts and that preferable alternatives are readily available and currently in use. It has been determined that the most effective way to reduce the environmental impacts related to plastic bags (including biodegradable plastic) is to ban their use in Traverse City and promote the use of reusable carryout bags.

"It is recommended that the community work together to allow stores to transition. We hope to see a Win-Win outcome. By eliminating plastic single use bags at checkout we can clean up the environment, conserve the fuel used in manufacturing and distributing plastic bags (for use in our vehicles and heating our homes), save the merchants the cost of purchasing bags (improving their bottom line), and eliminate plastic waste that despoils the natural beauty in this region and kills wildlife.

The intent of this proposal would be to accelerate a shift away from single use bags towards reusable bags. The initiative to replace disposable bags with reusable bags is taking place in several cities around Michigan and beyond."

Environmental Issues Associated with Plastic Bags

Plastic carryout bags were first introduced by retail stores in the United States in 1975 and began to be distributed to customers at the point of sale in supermarkets in 1977. Today these bags are ubiquitous in the marketplace because they are light-weight, strong, inexpensive and convenient.

Plastic carryout bags are made in a number of different sizes and thicknesses and are typically manufactured from either high density polyethylene (HDPE – recycling symbol #2) or from low density polyethylene (LDPE – recycling symbol #4). The LDPE bags are thicker and are generally used by department stores and other commercial retail outlets. The HDPE bags are typically thinner, cheaper and are used much more widely by supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and restaurants. These bags are termed “single-use” bags because they are intended for one time use for customers to carry their purchases from the store, followed by disposal or recycling. The thin, light duty plastic that the bags are made from is not durable enough for them to be repeatedly used for carryout. According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.

Plastic bags are a significant component of litter in the environment primarily due to their durability and light weight. Even when disposed of properly, plastic bags are often blown out of trash receptacles and are easily carried by wind and water to become entangled in vegetation, clog storm drains, and contribute to free-floating plastic debris in the marine environment. A waste characterization study conducted by the City of Los Angeles in June 2004 found that plastic bags made up 25% by weight (and 19% by volume) of litter found in 30 storm drain catch basins.

Plastic bags are a significant source of marine debris and are hazardous to birds and marine animals. 60% to 80% of all marine debris, and 90% of all floating debris is plastic. Plastic bags do not biodegrade in the environment, but they do break into smaller pieces that are often mistaken for food by birds and marine animalsi. Studies have estimated that more than 1 million birds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless fish die annually through ingestion of and entanglement in marine debris, including plastic bags.

Plastic bags are recyclable, however very few are actually recycled. Research has found that this is largely due to the logistics of sorting, high contamination rates that reduce the quality of the recycled resin produced, the low quality of plastic used in the bags, and the lack of cost efficiency due to lack of suitable markets for the recycled resin. Various estimates suggest that only 1% to 5% of the plastic  bags used annually are being recycled in any wayiv. The City of Traverse City does not provide curbside collection of plastic bags. In communities where recycling is available, over 90% of the plastic carryout bags taken to recycling facilities were not recycled but instead taken to landfills for disposal. Reasons cited include high contamination rates, the tendency of the bags to jam the screens used to separate materials, and the lack of suitable markets for the recycled material.

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Tell Us Your Opinion

We—and the MyNorth.community—are interested in hearing your comments about the bag ban. Please comment below!

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    While certainly beneficial to the environment, this is a clever way for the incorporated City of Traverse City to squeeze a few more bucks from the swim trunks of locals and tourists.

    Not to mention how enamored most Fudgies will be toting their compulsory carry-bag around, and how likely they will be to return and use it again.

    Well played, downtown TC, well played.

  • Anonymous

    Agree that our tourist supported town should think this through with that in mind. And so it wouldn’t ban paper bags? Could visitors use those without charge? I think its best to incent in a positive way … local groceries give me a discount when I bring my canvas bags, and that makes me feel organized and smart; if they charged me for the reverse, I’d feel punished.

    I’d have to change the way I handle a couple chores if I never got another single-use plastic bag … if I use it again isn’t it a multi-use?

    cat litter removal: would paper work? what if litter was wet, difficult to tie top

    poison ivy disposal: with plastic you can grab the poisonous vines using the bag as a second glove and then pull the bag over the leaves and tie it off. I don’t have to worry about bumping into it on brush piles, or as I push it into paper bags

    plant sharing: I put my divided plants that I’m giving to friends in these bags, then to plant them without tipping the plant on it’s head, my friends can just tear the bag out from under

    mini garbage bags for the bathroom wastebasket: I guess I could use paper or just empty the baskets into a big kitchen one

  • Anonymous

    I think that this “ban” needs much more consideration and more questions need to be addressed. I personally recycle, reuse and am aware of my household consumptions…and have for many years.

    I watched the city meeting and one person was speaking and while they were doing so they were tossing plastic bags on the floor. I understand the point but they were all from box stores..Target and Meijer (that I could read). So my question is why not start with a place like Meijer? Local is easier and more people will be on board… ok. I then looked at my Meijer bag and they are a number “2″ (which Grand Traverse does take). Why promote that they can be recycled? Plastic bags on the roads, hurting animals and flying around in the street…if the peopel would not litter and have some respect for our enviroment and the animals we would not have this problem…answer? Education and availability.

    Why does TC only recycle #1 and #2?It goes up to #8.
    Why not put recycling bins around the downtown, better yet, the area?
    Why not put bins to collect the grocery bags in front of the stores?
    Many plastic bags are made of recycled materials and are a #2. Oil, is that a problem? Yes. Well these reusable bags are also made from oil also. When paper bags are bought they weight more… in turn they use more gas…in turn creates more pollution.

    Like I stated before there are many more questions that need to be addressed before we add one more cost to the locals, tourist and merchants especially in these hard economical times.
    Thank You

  • Anonymous

    I LOVE this idea! While we should most certainly recycle existing plastic bags, encouraging the phasing out of them downtown is going to force even nonrecycling people to benefit the environment.

    Getting the big box stores to go along sounds great, but I imagine those big boxes are bound up in some serious corporate red tape, which means implementing a bag ban with them could take decades.

    I say, let’s show them the way by starting with the downtown merchants—people who live in and love TC are more likely to make bold, forward-thinking moves that’ll benefit the city.

    Big Box stores don’t care so long as we keep the dollars rolling into corporate HQ!

    So today we work with downtown TC, and tomorrow we take on the world. (Or at least Target.)

  • Anonymous

    Typical ecomarxist foolishness. This plan will be a pain in the butt for the tourists which support this economy. Of course the environazis are more concerned about the environment than their fellow human beings. We live in a depressed state with a 9% unemployment rate. They want to impose a foolish law that will have a minute impact on the environment but completely annoy the people who keep our community afloat economically. Bravo, Great insight.