May plastic bag bans rest in peace – Mackinac Center

As a teenager and young adult, I had a guilty pleasure watching cheesy B-grade horror movies. I watched them more for humor value and to pick out the many plot flaws and production than for their cinematic quality.

One of the main plot characteristics of each of these films was that the writers regularly struggled to give the villain an interesting story. These villains were apparently always a misunderstood genius, the victim of a long unrequited love or an equally tragic circumstance. A second characteristic of these villains was that no matter how many times the good guys fought them, they always managed to come back on the scene, ready to wreak havoc or exact revenge.

I don’t watch those movies as much as I used to, mainly because my wife hates them. But that’s okay, because I’ve learned that I can have the same kind of corny stories and the endless reappearance of long-dead ideas by following the Michigan Legislative Assembly.

I guess some Michigan lawmakers might have the same penchant for these types of horror movies, as they seem to follow very similar storylines as they repeatedly resurrect bills that should be left alone. A prime example is the attempt to advance another bill that would allow for a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Much like the screenwriters of horror movies, lawmakers are scrambling to provide a good story as to why they keep calling those bills from the grave. They scare voters with grim tales of untold environmental damage caused by the use of unsustainable petroleum products. They offer ominous prognoses of the untimely end of societies that only dare to use a plastic bag once.

For example, proponents of the ban often point to the challenge of marine plastic pollution and raise scary questions, but completely unverifiable claims like, “there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.” But just like in the movies, the stories and rationales have plot and production holes.

This year, HB 4157 tries once again to revive the interdiction effort. This bill would repeal a state law that prevents any effort by the municipal government to ban or impose taxes or fees on single-use bags or other “ancillary containers.” Last year, SB-975 does the same, just like HB 4500 in 2019, and HB 5871 in 2018. In 2016, HB 5962 took the more direct approach of attempting to completely ban the use of plastic grocery bags and take-out bags.

Where the aforementioned state preemptive law – Public Law 389 of 2016 — was passed, there were also several attempts to amend and weaken the bill by allowing municipal governments to maintain existing bans, allowing local governments to vote for additional bans, and providing for a cooling-off period. 20 months’ work when a ban is introduced.

The Mackinac Center has maintained a consistent stance against the repeated attempt to resurrect the plastic bag ban.

It is a mistake to think that these bans will stop at single-use plastic bags. In fact, past efforts to repeal the 2016 law would have opened up retailers to bans or taxes on cloth and paper bags, as well as on cardboard, aluminum, glass or other “auxiliary containers”.

Many governments canceled their ban on single-use containers for public health reasons at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we now know that the coronavirus is unlikely to be transmitted via food or food packaginginitial concerns about this as a possible vector of transmission discouraged reusable bags.

Despite this assurance, reusable bags are still known to be bacterial deposits, such as E. coli. if they are not regularly disinfected. It makes no sense to ban products that can reduce exposure to additional health risks as we continue to move towards herd immunity against the coronavirus.

Moreover, when you take into account that reusable bags are made from more durable materials, such as heavier plastics, paper or fabrics, and the energy and cleaning products needed to clean or sanitize reusable bags, the argument that one reduces overall energy or resource use by choosing reusable bags becomes murky at best.

A British study revealed that shoppers would need to use a cloth bag at least 131 times to offset the potential greenhouse gas impacts associated with single-use bags. The same study indicated that shoppers would need to use paper bags three times and heavier multi-use plastic bags four to 11 times to have a positive environmental impact.

Additionally, it’s not entirely clear that switching to reusable options will even reduce the overall use of plastic bags. A 2019 Greenpeace report, ‘Checking Out on Plastics II’, called Britain’s ‘bags for life’ scheme, which promoted heavier, multi-use plastic bags, ‘inadequate’. The report estimates that over 1.5 billion Lifetime Bags were sold in 2019, which equates to “around 54 Lifetime Bags per household in the UK”. Greenpeace lamented that customers seemed to simply “swap” single-use bags with heavier multi-use bags and recommended that stores discourage their use by selling the bags at a minimum price of 70p (~$1) each.

Research published in the journalEnvironmental science and technologyalso clarified that US bans on plastic bags in particular are not expected to have a significant impact on marine plastic pollution. This research explained that “the top 10 rivers” that have been highlighted as problematic sources of mismanaged plastic waste across the planet “carry 88-95% of the global load [of river-borne plastic waste] in the sea.” Supporting Information because the report indicates that eight of these 10 main rivers are in Asia and the other two in Africa.

Many no doubt accept the idea that we must wait for government regulators to publish the final list of acceptable options before we are able to act on an environmental issue. However, Michigan residents are quite capable of figuring out for themselves how best to transport their groceries and supplies from stores to their homes, and can do so while considering the impact of their choice on the environment.

In addition, private companies, which must respond to the demands of their customers, are in a better position to find cost-effective and innovative solutions that will reduce the environmental impacts of grocery and retail purchases.

If Michigan residents choose to use single-use bags, they can be trusted to recycle or properly dispose of those bags on their own. If they choose to use reusable containers, they can maintain them, sanitize them, and then recycle or dispose of them appropriately at the end of their useful life.

It’s time for Michigan mayors, councilors, state legislators and regulators to recognize that Michigan residents are capable of making these choices for themselves. It’s finally time to end this franchise of zombie mandates and restrictions and let them rest in peace.


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Bryce K. Locke