By editorial board • 

Banning plastic bags a case of  good intentions, with tradeoffs

Plastic bag bans are more of a gesture than a significant environmental benefit. There are plenty of pros to reducing the common carrier of groceries and other goods, the most significant being reducing litter and plastic in our waterways that turn deadly when digested by marine life.

But there are tradeoffs for everything, including how we transfer groceries from market to home. As University of Oregon professor David Tyler discussed in a recent article, paper bags likely have a greater carbon footprint than plastic because they take up more space and require more trucks to transport. 

Of course, the goal of bag bans is to encourage people to shop with reusable grocery bags. Even those carry consequences, particularly the cloth variety. According to a report by the World Wildlife Fund, cotton fields account for 24 percent of the worlds insecticides use and 11 percent of the pesticide market. And, though reused many times, cotton bags aren’t recycled like paper and, sometimes, plastic. 

Also, one must account for the various uses of plastic bags around the house. Remove plastic grocery bags from the equation, and larger, thicker, single-use plastic bags will be used. 

Prohibiting plastic bags is an issue that inspires more emotional outcry from the public — on both sides of the argument — than it really should. There’s plenty of reasons why. It’s an issue that’s simple to grasp and affects everyone. So public hearings on the issue — like the one McMinnville will have later this month — are likely to create much more dialogue than, say, a hearing on low-income housing or future city growth. 

One side even uses a catchy rallying cry: “Ban! The! Bag!” And the other gets an opportunity to complain about the nanny state again trying to run their lives. 

If you can’t tell, we are somewhat indifferent on whether to ban the plastic bag. Reducing plastic bags in waterways and roadsides in our region would, of course, be beneficial. It’s too bad it takes a government mandate to institute that change, instead of education and common sense on the peoples’ part. 

We do have one recommendation on the issue. If the city council does eventually vote for a ban, it should be prepared to distribute reusable bags to those most in need. Squeezing an additional $5 a month into the household budget is easy for many, but a struggle for some.

And make sure whatever bags you choose to distribute are the most environmentally friendly options.


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