Policy Documents

Do Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money?

H. Sterling Burnett –
December 11, 2013

In this policy report, Sterling Burnett wrties that consumers choose plastic bags far more often than paper or reusable bags. Compared to paper and reusable bags, plastic bags are lightweight, strong, flexible and moisture resistant. Despite these characteristics and their popularity, a growing number of municipalities and some states are enacting laws aimed at reducing the use of plastic (and sometimes paper) grocery bags. Advocates have given a number of justifications for the restrictions, including concerns about the scarce resources used to create the bags, environmental harms when they are disposed of improperly, the visible blight of roadside litter, and the cost of disposing or recycling them. However, an examination of the bag bans and budgets for litter collection and waste disposal in San Francisco, San Jose, and the City and County of Los Angeles, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; and Brownsville and Austin, Texas, shows no evidence of a reduction in costs attributable to reduced use of plastic bags.