"Single Use" Disposable Shopping Bags Vs. Reusable Cloth Bags

Lonna Baker

Will Fort Collins be the next "blind sheep city" that jumps off the "plastic bag cliff"? Just as so many other cities have been doing? Fort Collins City Council, on May 20th, will decide whether or not to pass an ordinance requiting an additional charge passed on to the consumer for each bag used.  The public is invited to voice their opinions about this matter this Thursday, April 3, in the City's Environmental Sciences Department 11:30am-1:30pm.

The City of Fort Collins web site lists many of the proponent reasons for why this is the right thing to do for our community.  These reasons listed pull at the public's heartstrings for being "green", reducing waste, and not endangering wildlife.  There are no facts listed on the City's web site about the opposing viewpoints, or the negative consequences produced by the enactment of this ordinance.  Here's what I found in a few quick minutes of research:

University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University recently completed a study on the public-health impact of such a ban, by evaluating the affects on San Francisco and other cities who had pushed through similar ordinances.  The San Francisco ban resulted in a 46% annual increase in deaths from food borne illnesses. 

A 2011 study conducted in Arizona and California found that 51% of cloth bags used for groceries contain Coliform bacteria.

75% of reusable bag users do not use a dedicated meat and/or vegetable bag.  Cross-contamination, plus a cloth bag baking in the trunk of a car, equals a bacteria fiesta on your next salad.

Washing the bag will remove 99.9% of bacteria, however, 97% of cloth bag users admit to never washing their bags.

The United Kingdom's Environmental Agency determined that cloth bags have to be used 104 times before their environmental performance surpasses that of plastic bags.  The same study showed that the average cotton bag is only used 52 times, and some cloth bags are used much less.  This show that cloth bags have twice the negative environmental impact of plastic bags.

Most reusable bags are produced in China.  They are then transported here on gas-guzzling cargo ships, which adds to pollution.  Most plastic bags are manufactured domestically.  Passing this ordinance threatens the jobs of nearly 30,000 working Americans that this industry supports. 100 percent of the material left over from making plastic bags is recycled. 

Over 80% of people report that they reuse plastic bags, the so called "single use bag".

Plastic bag waste accounts for only 0.6% of the waste in our landfills.  All plastic waste makes up to 16% of waste in the landfill, making plastic bags a very small part of the plastic waste concerns. 

Cloth bags are not as easily recyclable when they are retired, because they are made from multiple materials.

Let's hope the City Council is wise enough to look at all of the facts before making a decision for our community.  Or perhaps we can see if we can outlaw paper napkins, straws, sporks, pizza boxes, disposable diapers, ketchup packets, and bottled beverages, too.  Then we will be really "green".

Lonna Baker