This past Tuesday, the Wisconsin Senate and ALEC joined forces to prevent local communities from banning plastic bags. The bill was written despite the fact that no municipalities have actually passed plastic bag bans yet. Several prominent ALEC politicians sponsored the measure, which was voted on along party lines.
Plastic bags can take hundreds of years or more to degrade in landfills and are a major pollution problem everywhere in the developed and increasingly in the developing world. About one hundred billion plastic bags are used in the US annually but only about twelve percent of those are recycled, meaning somewhere close to 88 billion new bags join landfills every year.
Let that sink in for a moment.
And even when the bags do degrade, they release chemicals and hormones into bodies of water. It’s not an exaggeration to say several tens of billions of plastic bags worth of chemicals likely make their way through American municipal water supplies every year. This makes the plastic bag issue one of primary concern to local government in more ways than one.
Even worse, the Wisconsin bill wouldn’t just ban plastic bag ordinances specifically but would also prohibit communities from regulating any containers made of plastic, metal or glass in any way. This would mean it would be impossible for Wisconsin municipalities to make any law regarding the regulation of any disposable container.
The ALEC backlash against banning plastic bags started after the first major bans were passed. Chicago banned them in August, California will have a referendum on banning the bag this year, and ordinances have been spreading across the country for the last few years. Ban the bag and its counterpart bag the ban have been increasingly fighting at city halls and local council meetings over the ordinances. But ALEC’s goal is to keep the fight from happening in the first place by taking local communities’ rights to police pollution out of their hands.
Wisconsin’s bill would be the first of its kind in the country, but since Wisconsin serves as ALEC’s laboratory where the organization experiments on the populace, expect this law to be exported to other states sooner rather than later.
Dozens of bans and fees associated with plastic bags have already passed in cities and towns across the country, along with several ordinances including small fees on paper bags. ALEC is fighting the spread of these ordinances in part because 191 million barrels of oil and more than 400 billion cubic feet of natural gas are used to make plastic products annually, and plastic bags are one of the most widely made and ubiquitous plastic products in existence. Millions of dollars of oil company revenue are undoubtedly tied into sale material for the manufacture of plastic products, whether that material is a byproduct of refining or not.
Landfills will often try and sell plastic bags for profit, but when oil is cheap they often won’t be able to turn a profit selling recycled bags when buying fresh ones once again becomes an option for distributors. Banning plastic bag ordinances under these conditions would mean that new plastic bags pile up in landfills by the billions and stay there. For decades or centuries.
Plastic bag fees increase reusable bag usage by forty percent in some cases, and the short-term business loss retailers and small businesses experience from the bans has already reversed itself in areas where consumers are used to bringing reusable bags from home.
Featured image from Wikipedia