The New York Times published an editorial on Sept. 14 arguing that the United States should follow the example of Kenya and ban plastic bags. Bill Carteaux, President and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS; Washington, DC), thinks that’s a “frightening” idea.
You may recall that Kenya passed a law last month that criminalized the manufacture and import of plastic bags. As Clare Goldsberry wrote in “Use a plastic bag, go to jail,” anyone caught making, selling or using plastic bags could be fined up to $38,000 or spend up to four years in jail.
The New York Times editorial notes that “more than 40 countries, including China, France and Rwanda, have taxed, limited or banned plastic bags.” In the United States, California has instituted a ban, and many cities and counties throughout the country have passed legislation designed to curb their use.
“The United Nations, which estimates that, by weight, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 if the world doesn’t act, has begun a #CleanSeas campaign to eliminate the use of plastic microbeads and single-use plastic bags by 2022,” writes the Times Editorial Board. “Kenya and more than 40 other countries are acting now to help meet this goal. There is no excuse for the rest of the world to wait.”
To which Carteaux replied, Seriously? In response to the editorial, he dashed off a letter to the editor, which was published today in the New York Times. Here is what he wrote:
The idea of the United States taking environmental cues from Kenya, a country that ranks near the bottom for environmental performance, is frightening. Instead of following Kenya’s lead, we should build on initiatives that are already working in the United States to promote the recycling and reuse of plastic.
Banning plastic bags (or criminalizing them, as Kenya did) means increased food prices for low-income residents and higher costs for local store owners to provide more expensive options. It isn’t good for the environment either. With most bans, we’ve seen a move to thicker “reusable” bags that aren’t sufficiently reused, or cloth bags, which must be reused 131 times before their carbon footprint is less than a single plastic bag.
Plastic retail bags are half a percent of America’s waste and less than 1 percent of litter, so banning or taxing them will not produce meaningful benefits, though it will threaten American jobs.
Plastics is the third largest manufacturing sector in the United States, employing nearly a million Americans, including those who manufacture plastic bags. Reducing litter is everyone’s responsibility, which is why our members have installed 30,000 recycling drop-off points nationwide and are continuing to grow plastic film recycling.