Denver Might Ban Plastic Bags, Straws, Utensils: Bring Your Own Bag Coming Up?

Will Denver ban plastic bags, charge a fee, or do nothing?

Denverite reports Denver Might Ban Plastic Bags.

Denver City Council President Jolon Clark and some of his colleagues are looking into banning plastic bags in the city. Straws and plastic utensils could get blacklisted, too.

No one has proposed a law yet. The Denver City Council discussed the possibility at a meeting of the newly formed Policy Committee on Wednesday.

A council bill would probably move forward only if the Colorado General Assembly repealed a state law banning local governments from prohibiting the “use or sale” of specific plastic products. The Democrat-controlled legislature is open to repealing the law, according to Clark, who said he’s talked with leadership.

“I think it could open a lot of doors that I am personally excited about,” Clark said in an interview.

Seattle, Portland, Boston, Aspen and Telluride all banned the bag. California and Hawaii, too. In Aspen, grocers and other stores can’t give away single-use plastic bags, but can provide reusable ones. Paper bags cost 20 cents each, with 15 cents per bag funneled into a fund for reducing waste in the city.

Denver saw more than 7,000 tons of plastic film, bags and wrap thrown out in 2017, according to Charlotte Pitt, operations manager at Denver Solid Waste Management.

Plastic Bags Enemy Number 1

I suspect that caption should read tons of garbage and birds, not tons of birds.

They’re also “enemy number one” for Denver’s trash and recycling systems, said Clark, who recently toured the waste plants with his fellow lawmakers. Plastic bags clog recycling equipment (the city does not recycle plastic bags), contaminate composting efforts, and evade trash compactors at the landfill, often blowing away and becoming litter, Pitt said.

Curiously, Aspen and Telluride ban plastic but state law does not allow that. Denver might be a bit more cautious in expecting a lawsuit.

Use Plastic Save a Tree

I recall the promotion to use plastic to save trees. What happened?

No doubt there is a lot of plastic floating around in the ocean killing turtles and the like who confuse plastic with jellyfish. And paper eventually breaks down. But at what cost?

Plastic vs Paper

The International Plastics Association wants you to believe this.

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The plastics association says "Shipping assumes truck freight at $20/cwt for 1,000 miles average. 6 mile per gallon hauling 40,000 lbs in a full truck load. Emission and BTU data from The University of Texas at Austin, Michigan Technological University, and the US Environmental Protection Agency 2001. Bags are compared with new materials. Plastic bags require less energy to collect and recycle than paper bags."

Plastic bags can be made biodegradable, but then they won't be recyclable. And the cost will likely be something under the near 10-1 advantage listed.

Mixed Bag

Standford Magazine discusses paper vs plastic and concludes "The Answer is a Mixed Bag".

Two of the most important considerations for the eco footprint of a bag (or any other item) are whether we reuse it and, if so, how many times. An exhaustive Environment Agency (U.K.) report from 2011 found that paper bags must be reused at least three times to negate their higher climate-warming potential (compared with that of plastic bags). A cotton bag would have to be reused 131 times to break even with a plastic bag, in terms of the climate impact of producing each bag. Of course, plastics can be reused as well — they just don’t look as trendy.

Paper

According to the previously cited U.K. study, it takes three reuses of a paper bag to neutralize its environmental impact, relative to plastic. A bag’s impact is more than just its associated carbon emissions: Manufacturing a paper bag requires about four times as much water as a plastic bag. Additionally, the fertilizers and other chemicals used in tree farming and paper manufacturing contribute to acid rain and eutrophication of waterways at higher rates.

Plastic

The standard grocery store plastic bag is made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Studies agree that plastic bags are by far the least costly (i.e., carry the smallest ecological footprint) to produce.

Recycling plastic bags can be difficult. They often fly out of bins or cling to machinery. For these reasons, many cities do not accept them in the municipal recycling stream.

Reusable cotton or polypropylene

Reusable bags may be made from many different materials (hemp fiber, for instance, is especially good for people who fancy themselves as hip), but the two most common types are cotton and nonwoven polypropylene (PP), a more durable type of plastic. Even these chic reusable bags have caught flak from some environmentalists. Are they really better than plastic bags? The answer depends on how faithfully you reuse them. As mentioned in our essential answer, above, an average cotton shopping bag would need to be reused 131 times to account for its higher impact on the production side. So if you’re going to use this bag for the next five years, have at it.

Sustainable Actions

I like the conclusion "In the end, your actions will make the greatest difference — not the bag itself. The most sustainable choice is one that’s sustainable for you."

Are people really going to reuse paper bags three or four times? I highly doubt it.

So what problem are we trying to solve here? If the answer is to reduce clogs in recycling machines, then one might make a case for banning bags. If not, then unless people recycle, it's reasonably clear that plastic beats paper.

Then again, how about training people to not throw plastic bags in the recycle bin? Wouldn't that help?

BYOB

Sooner or later some city will try the guilt approach, mandating a question like this at the checkout counter: Sir, do you want paper to kill a tree or plastic to kill a turtle? The former is a dollar, the latter three. If neither, bring your own bag.

This might not be as simple as Colorado wants it to be.

Than again, a reader just pinged me with this: TEEN DECOMPOSES PLASTIC BAG IN THREE MONTHS

I am a firm believer that the free market, not government bureaucrats will solve these kinds of problems.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (40)
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Sechel
Sechel

plastic doesn't degrade landfills and the oceans are proof. the cost of pollution is not being allocated so nobody cares.

JonSellers
JonSellers

I use my own cloth bags. Got them for free and they're washable. Not a big deal.

ReadyKilowatt
ReadyKilowatt

I lived in Aspen when the passed the bag ban. Not a big deal to bring bags with you, just remember to walk them back to the car when you unload. I also had a nice "trunk" on my bicycle that worked great for small items.

But these days I do a fair amount of shopping at Costco. No bags at all. Sometimes I'll ask for a box, which is just the boxes from the pallets. But even without the box it isn't a big problem to load up the back of the vehicle. Loose fresh vegetables are still something that needs to be bagged but you can fit a surprising amount of stuff in a T-shirt bag.

Escierto
Escierto

Austin, Texas has also banned plastic bags. Even though I live in San Antonio which still permits them, I always bring my own reusable bag. It's no big deal really.

Webej
Webej

The biggest problem with plastic is not the production but the disposal. 95% of the plastic going into the oceans are from third world countries, so Aspen does not really figure into the problem/solution. Training people is always a weak plan, but garbage disposal and recycling are obviously big problems that will not be solved by market forces (the costs are being imposed on fish and posterity), nor by "us". Oil-based products (plastic, nylon) are fantastic, burning the oil is actually a pretty wasteful use of this resource. Markets cannot help with these kinds of issues unless there are mechanisms to feed the "externalities" back into the market dynamics.

Carl_R
Carl_R

"I am a firm believer that the free market, not government bureaucrats will solve these kinds of problems."

And this is it, exactly. The actual price of the bag accurately reflects the cost to make it, which in turn reflects the environmental impact of it's manufacture to a large degree. The cost won't reflect the disposal cost, though, so add a tax to reflect that, and then the total cost will reflect the total environmental impact, and the free market can choose based on the actual total cost. Plastic will cheaper, then paper, then cotton but if a customer plans to re-use his cotton bag, it will be cheaper. Have the store charge for the bag, and then let consumers make the choice.

For those that don't like the idea of a tax, a tax is the only way you can let the free market work properly. The reason is that the environment is free, and people or businesses can pollute with no cost. Governments, therefore, have to interfere a little to make the costs reflect the real total cost. One way they can interfere is through regulation, and the other is with tax. Regulation is inefficient, and costly, and requires constant government choices that prevent the free market from working. Taxes simply adjusts the costs to reflect the real total cost, and then lets the free market work, and produces revenue as a byproduct, reducing the need for other taxes.

KidHorn
KidHorn

Around here plastic bags cost a nickle. I use cloth bags to save a few cents at the grocery store. Probably save a few bucks over the course of a year. Not a big deal. I've seen many people in line in front of me just pay for the bags.

her_hpr
her_hpr

McMinnville OR has banned plastic and the grocery store charges 5 cents for a paper bag . . . most people now bring their own.

bradw2k
bradw2k

Plastic bags are outlawed in Portland. It's statist, of course, but we don't really miss them. We actually re-use paper grocery bags at home as kitchen garbage bag etc.

For there to be free market solutions to pollution, there would have to be a free market -- and that means ALL property privatized, including oceans, beaches, waterways, forests, roads, parks, etc. No one really cares about pollution on "public" lands because it's everyone's, and therefore no one's, problem.

JL1
JL1

95% of the plastic in worlds oceans is from 10 rivers in Africa and Asia.

Banning plastic in USA and Europe is useless in solving the problem since the problem is uneducated people throwing their plastic trash to rivers in Africa and Asia.

If one would take other rivers in Africa and Asia into account the plastic in oceans would be like 99.9% from Africa and Asia.

USA and Europe should demand that African and Asian countries educate their people not to throw plastic in to rivers and as development aid one could export electricity generating plants that use plastic as their fuel but have enough of filters so that nothing bad is released from them so if energy would be created in those countries from plastic then plastic would have some value and countries and cities would have an incentive to make sure plastic ends up in the electricity generating plants instead of rivers and from the oceans.

awc13
awc13

another example of how those who claim to believe in science and facts are in fact, not considering the science and facts but rather legislating based on emotions

bowwow
bowwow

Dog owners are an important part of deciding this issue. But without knowing what they would come up with, they wouldn't be the only ones.

I'm against plastic bag taxes. There has to be a real substitute for containing typical garbage on an ongoing basis. Until then, the government is toying with a problem that it has no way or perhaps no intent of correcting.

I agree, the individual knows best what they can do in support of the environment. Schools should be teaching the environmental issues.

wootendw
wootendw

Montgomery County, Maryland, which I still visit at least once a year, has a most annoying (plastic) bag tax. It's only a nickle but, just to make sure you get the message, every cashier has to ask you if you want bags.

If you go to the self-service register, you must explicitly state how many bags you use - which is an improvement as some stores used to keep the plastic bags away from the self-service registers and make you ask for them.

I've also noticed that there are no Styrofoam cups in Maryland.

Brother
Brother

California's bag ban wasn't a ban at all. I still use plastic and the grocer sells it to me. Some store's are exempt a great example how government policies don't do work. Straws come to mind as more bad policy.