The economic effect of plastic bag bans

February 06, 2013

A study from the National Center for Policy Analysis claims that a ban on plastic bags used by grocers and retailers can negatively impact sales in the ban area and increase sales among stores just outside the bag ban region.

The NCPA surveyed store managers in Los Angeles County, where a ban of thin-film bags took effect in July 2011. The group conducted a survey of 80 large stores such as supermarkets and variety shops affected by the ban.

Additionally, each large store in unincorporated Los Angeles County was matched with one or two other stores within two miles and also in an incorporated area. The stores were matched in order to compare the effect of any displacement of commerce due to the ban.

During a one-year period, before and after the ban, the majority of stores surveyed in areas with a ban reported an overall average sales decline of nearly 6%. While the majority of respondents surveyed in areas without a ban reported an overall average sales growth of 9%. 

The study also sought to determine if consumers changed their shopping behavior by increasing purchases at stores that could still offer plastic bags. Pamela Villarreal, NCPA senior fellow, told PlasticsToday it was interesting to find that consumers chose to shop at stores unaffected by the ban.

"What we suspect is people that live in an area under a bag ban, but are in close proximity to an area without one, will 'vote with their feet,'" she said. "We often hear that people oppose plastic bags, but it sure does look like a lot of people do like them."

Potential jobs impact

The NCPA survey said that stores under the bag ban also experienced a 10% reduction in employment, while employment in stores outside of the ban slightly increased. Villarreal said that was particularly "alarming."

"We often hear about the environmental effects of plastic bags, but the economic effects are generally ignored," she said. "When you think about the unemployment rate in this country, any negative impact on employment is something to take notice of."

The U.S. plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector employs more than 30,000 workers in 349 communities across the nation, according to the American Progressive Bag Alliance , an organization representing the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector.

"We wish we were spending our resources in investing in more American manufacturing jobs and greener recycling technologies," said Donna Dempsey, the spokesperson for the American Progressive Bag Alliance.  "But instead we have to work on correcting the amount of misinformation that is out there. We make sure all of our information is scientific and fact based, as we deal with science versus emotions."

Leila Monroe, staff attorney for the oceans program at the Natural Resources Defense Council ( NRDC), looks at the impact on jobs in a different way. She said bag bans provides an opportunity for the industry to innovate.

"They can pull together and look at how they can design better products that are truly durable and easily recyclable," Monroe said. "I have no doubt that if

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