Op-Ed: Cutting down on disposable bags means both paper and plastic

Rocco D’Antonio

In recent years, plastic bags have become the No. 1 public enemy of the environmental community, with several states, cities and communities seeking to ban them. Here in New Jersey, a number of municipalities have jumped on the anti-plastic train and have proposed bans and fees for disposable bags. And there are several legislative proposals to reduce bag use, ranging from a total plastic ban to a levy on all paper and plastic bags.

While much of the attention has been focused on eliminating and reducing plastic bags, it is important to recognize that paper bags are a major threat to the environment as well. In fact, many studies show that paper bags do more harm than plastic. According to a study by the UK Environment Agency, the life cycle assessment (LCA) of a paper bag is “significantly worse” than plastic in terms of its impact on health and the environment. Indeed, the carbon footprint of paper bags, from production to checkout, is much larger than that of their plastic equivalent.

Indeed, paper bags have a much more negative impact on the environment in terms of manufacture, transport and volume of solid waste. Studies have shown that producing paper bags requires more resources than producing plastic bags – including water, energy, and chemicals – and emits more pollutants into our atmosphere and water. The country’s paper industry also generates more than 12 million tonnes of solid waste per year, according to an EPA study. And the increase in the volume of paper relative to plastic correlates directly with the significant increase in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced to transport it.

Pay a premium for paper

Due to the high cost of production and transportation, paper bags are also considerably more expensive for retailers, three to four times more expensive than plastic. If stores were to ban plastic and only use paper bags, major retailers estimate that this would add an additional $ 100,000 per store in annual costs, which would ultimately be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for them. goods and services.

Therefore, any meaningful environmental solution to reducing disposable bags must include both paper and plastic. A proposal currently before the State Legislature (link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2018/Bills/A3500/3267_R1.HTM|A-3267]) would reduce the use of all disposable bags statewide set up a 5-cent fee on all disposable bags, paper and plastic. Four cents of this royalty would be returned to the State and devoted to an environmental fund. The remaining penny would be retained by the retailer to cover compliance costs.

This legislation is based on a successful model in Montgomery County, Maryland, which reduced the overall use of disposable bags without hurting the retailer or burdening the consumer. Across the county, the program prevented hundreds of millions of bags from entering the waste stream and generated more than $ 2.6 million in tax revenue in the first two and a half years, with a population of county of about 1 million. A levy on paper and plastic provides incentive behavior while allowing retailers and customers to transition to reusable bags.

Finally, it is essential that lawmakers tailor a single statewide policy, rather than requiring companies to comply with a patchwork of regulations. We applaud cities that seek to clean up their communities by limiting the use of disposable bags. However, New Jersey’s environment and economy would be better served by a statewide initiative that includes both paper and plastic. We urge Governor Phil Murphy and the legislature to support A-3267.

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