Green Cities CA Releases Master Environmental Assessment on Single-Use Bags!

Posted by — March 12, 2010 12:02 am

Green Cities California (GCC) released a Master Environmental Assessment (MEA) on single-use bags on March 8th, 2010. MEA’s are a means to organize information and can be one-stop reference documents. This MEA is intended to be used by cities and governments looking to act on the harms of single-use bags via bans, fees or other actions. It does not offer final recommendations but is a valuable source for organizations to turn to pull legitimate scientific information on the matter. Cities looking to address the over consumption of single-use bags can use this document when creating the Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) necessary for legislation. The comprehensive report includes information about single-use bags, greenhouse gas emissions, persistent litter, bag life-cycles, environmental harms/impacts and reusable bags. The report also studies the effects of fees and bans. Up to 90% of bag use drops when stores charge for them!

“We’re not going to recycle our way to a sustainable society,” said Dean Kubani, GCC Steering Committee member and Director of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability. “We need to orient away from single use and towards durable products. We are confident that this report will provide the documentation local governments need to adopt policies that encourage the use of reusable bags and phase out single use bags.”


Overview of Findings

Single-Use Plastic Bags: Nearly 20 billion single-use high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic grocery bags are used annually in California, and most end up in landfills or as litter. In fact, of the four types of bags considered, plastic bags had the greatest impact on litter.

Single-Use Paper Bags: Kraft paper bags are recycled at a significantly higher rate than single-use plastic bags. Still, over its lifetime, a single-use paper bag has significantly larger greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and results in greater atmospheric acidification, water consumption, and ozone production than plastic bags.

Single-Use Biodegradable Bags: Although biodegradable bags are thought to be an eco-friendly alternative to HDPE plastic bags, they have greater environmental impacts at manufacture, resulting in more GHG emissions and water consumption than conventional plastic bags. In addition, biodegradable bags may degrade only under composting conditions. Therefore, when littered, they will have a similar impact on aesthetics and marine life as HDPE plastic bags.

Reusable Bags: Reusable bags can be made from plastic or cloth and are designed to be used up to hundreds of times. Assuming the bags are reused at least a few times, reusable bags have significantly lower environmental impacts, on a per use basis, than single-use bags. Some of the reviewed LCAs indicate that use of the non-woven plastic reusable bag results in particularly large environmental benefits.

Effects of Policy Options on Single-Use Bags: In other regions of the world, fees and bans on bags have resulted in dramatic drops in consumption. For instance, the Irish plastic bag tax immediately resulted in a greater than 90% reduction in use. Due to California law AB2449, no fee program on plastic bags can be introduced. However, bans on single-use plastic bags, as well as fees on other single-use bags, may be implemented to minimize use.
Read Full Report

A special thanks to Green Cities California for putting this together. Your efforts will benefit us all.

Learn More Facts about Single Use-bags or start a reusable bag movement in your city!

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