No longer will Los Angeles citizens be asked “paper or plastic?” The Los Angeles City Council has decided to move forward with a controversial ban on plastic bags that proponents say will protect Southern California’s delicate ecosystems.
In a state with an almost 11% unemployment rate and a city facing a $250 million budget deficit, it is almost comedic to hear City Councilmen prioritize an issue that has hardly any significant impact on the environment yet has a large impact on the economy. Aside from whatever legitimate impact this ban could have on the Los Angeles environment, it clearly does not help recession-stricken businesses and citizens.
The economically ignorant City Councilmen have created many new perverse incentives that all lead to less economic production in Los Angeles. For example, businesses that feel threatened by this ban will now be encouraged to leave Los Angeles for outskirt locations just outside of town, or even worse, they will be forced to shut down. Citizens who used reusable plastic bags for non-grocery purposes will now have to purchase other bags for those purposes, diverting money otherwise spent in other parts of the economy to purchasing even more bags. Also, the ban will force shoppers to buy new re-usable bags if they forget their own bags at home, draining even more money out of the citizens’ pockets.
So, if a city as big as Los Angeles were to make such a policy despite obvious strain on the economy, one would imagine that the environmental aid from the ban must be overwhelming, right? Wrong. According to some studies on litter, plastic bags make up less than 1% of all litter. Also, the Statewide Waste Characterization Study conducted in 2009 shows that plastic bags made up 0.3% of all waste in California in 2008. So unless this number has skyrocketed since, there is very little evidence to suggest that the ban would have any noticeable impact on the environment, let alone a large enough impact to justify such intrusive government intervention.
Yet again, California proves its critics correct. California lawmakers continue to bury their heads in the sand, ignoring the real reforms needed (balanced budget amendment, anyone?) and creating utopian and invasive laws that only exacerbate their problems. As the rest of us watch from afar, we can only hope that this disturbing trend stops in Los Angeles and doesn’t pollute the rest of the United States with anti-plastic bag hysteria.