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.
- Paper and Plastic: nmeac.org/Toolkit/Plastic/PaperPlastic.html
- Plastic Facts: nmeac.org/Toolkit/Plastic/facts.html
- Other Bag Bans: nmeac.org/Toolkit/Plastic/ShoppingBagBans.html
- Traverse City Resolution: nmeac.org/documents/Resolution_ReducePlasticBagConsumption.pdf
Tell Us Your Opinion
We—and the MyNorth.community—are interested in hearing your comments about the bag ban. Please comment below!