Would you like to know more? @JoanWIP did, and then promptly so did we.
Welcome to #AskSisyphus the pre-Christmas edition. What makes it pre-Christmas? The fact that it’s happening before Christmas. That’s it. Deal with it. Next week’s will be either Post Christmas or Pre New Year’s Eve.
At any rate … banning plastic bags …
Many countries and cities the world over are banning the use of plastic bags due to the environmental damage it causes as well as the economic burden of having to dispose of, recycle, or repair damage caused by them.
For environmental damage you’ve got marine animals thinking bags are jellyfish and eating them or getting caught in them and dying. You’ve got birds, both marine and otherwise, getting stuck in them and dying. And there are land animals who eat them and eventually die from them as well. You don’t want to know the specifics, they’re grim.
The economic burden consists of the landfills filling up (which leads to bags in the ocean and exposed to birds), the cost of maintaining existing landfills and developing new ones. There are costs incurred when the plastic bags gunk up the recycling machine requiring repairs … one city estimated it paid $1 million a year in repairs due to plastic bag damage alone. And that’s all assuming they have the machinery already available to recycle them in the first place. If they don’t, that obviously costs them as well. Some cities found that the bags were clogging up their storm drain systems which lead to serious flooding … and as we all know, flooding can be extremely damaging and expensive. Some say the tax payers’ money would be better spent on other things than plastic bag disposal and recycling. More on this later.
Those are the basic arguments against using plastic bags and why the ban is something people are considering in the first place. There are arguments against it though, asserting that the environmental impact is being overstated and that the economic cost of banning bags is far worse than actually using them.
I found a Wall Street Journal link that gives a couple perspectives. The short story is that both parties admit that there is a problem with pollution. The detractors claim that no one really knows just how big the problem is, or specifically just how much of that problem is due to plastic bags. They also argue that we really can’t know how badly the bags are affecting animals. The conclusion this gentleman draws from that is that we can’t consider the environmental impact because we don’t have definitive data.
In your constant search for reliable information, trusting the opinion of an asshole who says that because you don’t know the exact data that all the information you do have isn’t worth considering … makes you as much of a moron as he is. He could stand to benefit from a statistics course. But I digress.
If you look at the image below from the Wall Street Journal page, they’re examining what they’ve found on beaches and you can see that plastic bags do make up for a significant amount of trash being found. His argument is that bags are only a small portion of what’s out there, so why are we focusing just on bags. Because they’re number four on the top 10 list. Clearly we can’t go after the smokers (because they have more money than God, and therefore enough lobbyists to make any attempts to ban cigarettes take decades, if not centuries), and everyone needs caps or lids … and you can’t ban bottles (although there are already great efforts being taken the world over to reduce the use of plastic bottles) … so that leaves you with plastic bags … and we’re right back where we started.
So perhaps his arguments are worthless. Other data from the Plastic Bag Ban Report website claims that the economic impact of the plastic bag ban goes beyond what you might initially think of.
Some data from reports they ran (and you can choose whether to believe these reports or not):
The survey sought to identify the following:
- Would retail sales be affected
- Would employment be affected
- Would shoppers change their shopping habits
The survey results showed that of the retailers responding in the ban-affected areas:
- 80% realized a -5.7% decrease in sales
- Employment was reduced by over 10%
Merchants in the incorporated areas of the county (not affected by the ban) reported:
- 60% of retailers saw a 9% increase in sales
- Employment increased by 2.4%
Things to note here: 80% of retailers showed a 5.7% decrease in sales. That’s significant. Employment reduced by over 10% … even more significant (why that is when sales only dropped 5.7% is up for debate, but you can click over and see the full report if you’d like. It’s on the first site in the appendix.) It stands to reason that if sales dropped for some companies, others would show an increase. So 60% showed an increase in sales (what that % increase is is perhaps less important since you don’t know if it was a comparable number of retailers, comparable sales numbers among those stores and so on) … but only a 2.4% increase in employment.
Just from a common sense standpoint I’m a little suspicious of this data. If we’re attributing the 10% loss of employment in one set of seemingly comparable stores to the plastic bag ban, given a 5.7% decrease in sales, I would expect to see a similar bump in employment given a 5.7% increase in sales (from whatever reason). But when we’re shown a bump in sales of almost twice that, we’re showing only a marginal bump in employment.
This is probably an example of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) or, in other words, correlation does not imply causation. Basically, the data they’re reporting is clearly missing some influential factors or the numbers would make more sense.
So I’m going to disregard this data for now, you may choose to do with it as you please. Long story short, plastic bags have a detrimental effect on the environment and they have an economic impact. If you want to get down to brass tacks though, everything has an economic impact … right down to your body hair (I looked down at my arm). The banning of plastic bags also has an economic effect. Without being able to come up with a monetary value for the environmental impact, I think it’s impossible to say whether it’s more “expensive” to ban bags or use them … but I’d lean towards shouldering a higher economic burden (if there actually was one) to reduce the environmental impact.
This is the only dirtball we get and we’ve already wiped out some 95% of the biodiversity on it in the last 100 years. (I can’t find the infographic I’m remembering that from, so take it with a grain of salt.)