by Mary Smart
Governor Abercrombie was right about one thing in his 2013 State of the State speech, there are too many answers in the form of solutions being proposed before sufficient questions are asked and researched. One particular case in point is Abercrombie own "10-cent fee for single-use checkout bags". Significant research shows that a plastic bag ban and the imposed fee on their use actually harms the environment, wastes natural resources, increases energy costs, and negatively impacts the economy due to the loss of American jobs.
Abercrombie's bag tax will require an immense oversight and enforcement mechanism which will eliminate any hoped for gains or improvements. California grocers estimate their higher costs from their bag bans and fees in the millions.
Hawaii has oversight experience with the bottle bill. The June 30, 2010 HI-5 Audit Report, exposes mismanagement problems and possibly fraud. These findings should raise sufficient concern to avoid another government run program that adds nothing but overhead to our already bloated government budget. At ten-cents a pop, how accurate will the plastic bag count be?
University of Oregon professor of chemistry David Tyler Compares plastic, paper and 'reusable' bags and comes up with some surprising findings:
"(P)lastic bags... produce less greenhouse gas, they use less water and they use far fewer chemicals compared to paper or cotton. The carbon footprint— that is, the amount of greenhouse gas that is produced during the life cycle of a plastic bag—is less than that of a paper bag or a cotton tote bag. If the most important environmental impact you wanted to alleviate was global warming, then you would go with plastic....
"Cotton is typically grown on semiarid land so it consumes a huge amount of water and you also need a lot of pesticides. About 25 percent of the pesticides used in this country are used on cotton. Paper is just typically considered a fairly polluting industry."
Plastic bags are made from natural gas, not oil. Honolulu, in the form of H-Power, has a very advanced plastic bag recycling program.
An August, 2012 study published by the NationalCenter for Policy Analysis, compares energy inputs and plastic is by far the most efficient:
"Traditional plastic bags require only 182,361.4 kcal of energy to produce, but some 2,581.3 kcal of energy can be recovered through combustion.
"By contrast, an alternative to traditional plastic bags, compostable plastic bags made of starch and other materials, require more than twice as much energy (494,741.9 kcal) to produce, but only 3,477.5 kcal can be recovered through combustion.
"Paper bags fare the worst, with more than three times as much energy consumption as plastic bags (626,672.9 kcal), whereas only 6,859.5 kcal can be recovered through combustion."
The international Water Footprint Network, reports: "The water footprint of cotton fabric made with cotton from China is 6000 litre/kg. For cotton from the USA this is 8100 litre/kg, for cotton from India 22500 litre/kg...." The Clean Water Action Council cites paper mills as a major source of water pollution.
A 2011 report by the U.K. Environment Ministry found, "The cotton bag has a greater impact than the conventional HDPE (plastic) bag in seven of the nine impact categories even when used 173 times (i.e. the number of uses required to reduce the Global Warming Potential of the cotton bag to that of the conventional HDPE bag with average secondary reuse). The impact was considerably larger in categories such as acidification and aquatic & terrestrial ecotoxicity due to the energy used to produce cotton yarn and the fertilisers used during the growth of the cotton."
More Studies: Paper vs Plastic