Two Important Issues For Newport To Consider Before It Decides To “Ban The Bag”

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As the Newport City Council prepares to vote on a plastic bag ban, they should consider these issues.

The Newport City Council will vote tonight on a plastic bag ban. Advocates for the ban cite the damage done to wildlife by plastic bags.

We’d just like to toss out a couple counter-points for people to consider (mostly so that, at some point in the future, we can say “We told you so.”)

1. The bag ban would disproportionately harm Newport’s poor and disabled.

Having spent years working retail in Newport, we have a pretty good grasp of the public’s bag usage. Most people using plastic carry bags need them because they don’t have a car and need to walk a distance with the goods they have purchased.

In such a case, the more common brown paper bags aren’t particularly useful, as they don’t have handles. There are paper bags available with handles, but they are more expensive and energy-intensive to manufacture.

We could ask Newport’s more destitute to acquire more durable tote bags or backpacks, but then there’s an often high convenience cost associated. Driving over to Stop & Shop, parking your Subaru and grabbing a number of tote bags out of the hatch is essentially painless. Asking someone who’s taking two busses to get to work to carry those tote bags on them all day for when they stop at the grocery store on the way.

2. “Environmentalism” isn’t as simple as it seems.

Disposable plastic bags are an environmental pariah…at least until you closely examine the alternatives.

In an article published last year in The Atlantic, they examined a 2008 study by UKEA (United Kingdom Environmental Agency) that determined disposable plastic bags have the smallest environmental impact per-use among shopping bags.

The breakdown goes like this. In order for a bag to have a per-use environmental impact as low as disposable plastic bags, one would have to re-use the following options:

Paper bag: 7 times
Recycled Polypropylene tote bag: 26 times
Cotton tote bag: 327 times

So if you go grocery shopping once a week, you’ll have to use a cotton tote bag for 6 and a half years before it’s had less of an impact than disposable plastic sacks.

This isn’t to say that minimizing Newport’s environmental impact isn’t a good idea. It’s just to say that these issues are often counter-intuitive and if a proper examination of the issues aren’t conducted, measures based on “what we all know to be true” can be extremely counter-productive.

So if Newporters want to restrict our options on a sort-of arbitrary basis, then sure, we can “Ban The Bag”. We’re sure that some people will derive some sense of esteem or purpose from the action. Whether anĀ overall good will come from it is another matter entirely.

-Tristan Pinnock, Blast Environmental Correspondent

Tristan's just this guy, ya know?