Colorado Senate Bags Plastic Shopping Bag Ban

Published May 1, 2009

The Colorado Senate has rejected a bill that would have made Colorado the first state to ban plastic shopping bags.

Proponents of the bill had argued plastic bags are not biodegradable and can harm wildlife. Opponents noted plastic bags are recyclable and studies show plastic bags have minimal negative impact on wildlife.

In addition, opponents had noted a ban on plastic bags would increase use of paper bags, which take up more landfill space than plastic bags. Paper bags are also much bulkier and heavier than plastic bags, which means transporting paper bags requires the burning of more fossil fuels than the transport of plastic bags.

Greens Square Off

In a case of Green vs. Green politics, environmental activists could be found on both sides of the issue.

“It is too easy now just to take the plastic bags and run. If they were not an option, no one would miss them, in my opinion,” said Alan Rosenblatt, associate director of online advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Freelance legislative analyst Matt Schumsky said a bag ban would instead hurt environmental efforts.

“From the research I’ve done on plastic bags, there have been negatives” associated with plastic bag bans, Schumsky said. Importantly, banning plastic shopping bags would lead consumers to purchase and use more kitchen trash bags, which require more oil to produce and pose greater environmental concerns.

“Plastic [shopping] bags are used so heavily today for trash. They’re kind of a different tier from kitchen-sized trash bags. … If we get rid of all the plastic [shopping] bags, it’s going to increase, not decrease, the use of kitchen trash bags, so it’s going to shoot up that market. Overall, it is not going to be helpful to the environment in that sense,” said Schumsky.

Consumers Prefer Plastic

Originally, plastic bags were used at stores to prevent deforestation resulting from paper bag production. Plastic bags are cheaper to produce and generally preferred by customers for ease of carrying.

San Francisco was the first city to ban plastic shopping bags, in 2007. A Los Angeles ban takes effect next year.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.