Most would agree that decreasing reliance on single-use bags makes sense for the environment. As a result, many cities are adopting plastic bag bans as a way to improve the environment. On the surface, these bans may seem like a great solution to keeping plastic waste out of landfills and waterways, but are they really? In our complex world, good ideas often lead to unintended consequences that create new problems. This perpetuates a cycle of the need for additional remedies to correct the problems created by previous government interventions.
For example, the plastic bag ban in San Francisco did not lead consumers to begin using reusable bags. They just switched to paper. Knowing that paper has its own significant environmental problems, San Francisco is now trying to ban paper bags as well. Likewise, according to the EPA, single-use plastic bags account for only a fraction of landfill mass. Keep America Beautiful recently conducted a scientific study on litter in the U.S. It turns out plastic bags only accounted for 0.6% of the litter. It was such a small percentage that it did not make the top 10 list of prominent litter items. So, we wondered, how does a ban on something that has such a small waste footprint help solve our environmental problems? We are not suggesting that single-use bag use should not be moderated, however, the growing hysteria to ban what seems to be more of a symbol than a real problem is troubling because it ignores the real issue. We cannot ban all plastics, so we need to focus energy on learning how to recycle them better and make products out of that recycled material. We are not going to live in a world without paper towel or toilet paper wrap, newspaper bags, dry cleaning liners or even bread bags, so the banning strategy is shortsighted and ultimately will not make a difference.
In 2005, Command Packaging began studying the dilemma and searched for a solution. The key argument with plastic bags was the inability to recycle these products cost effectively. So, in 2009, we started a recycling business dedicated to collecting, cleaning and recycling thin plastic material such as bags and industrial plastics. Our goal was to determine whether large amounts of thin plastic material could affordably be recycled into other flexible plastic products. The answer was an unequivocal yes! Today, we are recycling millions of pounds of plastic every year and manufacturing useful, reusable packaging solutions like our True Reusable Bags from that recycled material. While it is exciting to create a new American industry and green manufacturing jobs, the development of True Reusable Bags also has created a model of how we can make plastics greener without penalizing consumers or costing Americans more jobs. The solution is available, however, it takes a commitment from grocers, waste haulers and consumers to participate in the process of making a useful product out of plastic trash. More people need to understand that flexible plastic can be and is being recycled. Consumers need to understand that choosing useful American-made products like True Reusable Bags instead of creating a new class of plastic products (as we are doing with the imported non-woven plastic reusable bags from China), is a better way for consumers to do their part. It also sends a message to stores and governments that the free market can solve problems without more government intrusion. Change does not happen quickly. It will be an evolution for grocers, waste haulers and consumers to see the benefits of a closed-loop program like True Reusable Bags. Recycling plastic trash and turning it into a great product and repeating this closed-loop process over and over is the obvious solution to reducing plastic waste in our environment. Its time will come. To learn more about our movement to reduce plastic waste and promote American-made reusable bags through a closed-loop recycling solution, please visit our websites, commandpackaging.com or truereusablebags.com, to see all of the great things we are doing to create a plastic recycling culture in the U.S. Erin Grande is the Environmental Program Director for True Reusable bags. In her role, she educates the public about acting responsibly through closed-loop recycling to reduce waste. She implements and oversees plastic film recycling programs for businesses and schools around the U.S.