"It's a backlash against the consumption society," Sterling Burnett, senior fellow of the National Center for Policy Analysis. Burnett examined six cities, including San Francisco, that had banned the free distribution of single-use plastic bags, only to find no proof that the bans save cities money as sponsors promised.
Plastic bags account for such a small amount of landfill -- less than 1 percent -- he explained, that banning these flimsy receptacles doesn't really change a city's waste stream. The problem with bag banners is, Burnett added, "you only talk about the benefits of getting rid of it. You ignore the costs of the other option."
The other option is reusable bags. A 2011 U.K. Environment Agency study found that reusable cloth bags have to be used more than 131 times to have less of a greenhouse gas impact than once-used high-density polyethylene bags.
Now you see reusable bags everywhere. When my county's ban began, I had one reusable bag. Now I cannot count all the cloth bags I have stashed at work, in my car and at home. They don't look all that healthy, so I doubt I'll reuse them more than 100 times.
At least I know enough to wash reusable bags. Most consumers do not wash their sacks in hot water; they risk putting their groceries in a germ incubator.
To sum up: Single-use bag bans don't really reduce greenhouse gases; they encourage the use of cloth bags that can be hazardous to your health; and if you choose to opt out because it's healthier and more convenient, you get nickeled and dimed when you go shopping. City politicians love to come up with taxes that are supposed to discourage what they consider to be bad behavior -- buying Happy Meals, drinking soda, maybe, and, it seems, spending money in San Francisco stores.
Mayor Ed Lee once defended the city's bag ban: "The intent was never to nickel or dime anybody. But if it takes 10 cents to remind somebody that their habits are in their control, I think that's something we're willing to consider doing."
Amazing. In that spirit, I recommend charging the mayor a dime for every mile he travels during one of his many greenhouse gas-emitting trade trips to China. I guess it's OK to shop in China.