Letter: Oppose preemption of plastic bag bans

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We are organizations, groups and individuals working to develop solutions to a growing tide of waste, with a particular concern about plastic pollution. We have worked very hard to help educate ourselves and our communities about the benefits of placing a fee on disposable bags and limiting the use of plastic bags. Last year we were successful in helping get an ordinance democratically passed in the City of Minneapolis that does just this and is intended to go into effect in June. Single-use, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags pose significant problems to the environment, wildlife, and human health through their production, use, and disposal. Made from crude oil, natural gas and other petrochemical derivatives, an estimated 12 million barrels of non-renewable oil are needed to make the 100 billion plastic bags. Americans use annually—more than 330 plastic bags per person per year. Out of all these bags, less than 5% are currently recycled.1

Unfortunately, bills that aim to suppress the power of local governments, community groups and citizens to place any fee on disposable bags or to limit or regulate the use of disposable bags recently passed through both the House and the Senate (originally HF1504 and SF1195 – but this will be showing up in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Omnibus Bill). These fees and bans are powerful tools for communities to protect the health of their residents from the problems created by the production, use and disposal of plastic bags, which disproportionally impact communities of color and low income communities.

A 2016 study made headlines with the shocking prediction that the world’s oceans could contain more tons of plastic packaging waste than fish by the year 2050! Not only is global plastics packaging jeopardizing our ecosystems, but 95% of the value of plastic packaging, worth $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy after one short use. The amount of time a plastic bag is used is roughly 12 minutes or less. 2

The plastic bags we get at the grocery store today, at no additional charge, are not free. Research by Austin, Texas City staff in 2011 determined that between disposal costs, litter costs and damage to recycling infrastructure, single-use plastic bags cost local governments about $1 dollar per resident per year. 3 In the Twin Cities, Eureka Recycling spends up to 2 hours each day removing plastics bags from recycling equipment.

For all intents and purposes, plastic never biodegrades; instead it slowly photo degrades. As it photo degrades, plastic film breaks into smaller and smaller pieces and attracts surrounding toxins. 2 The microscopic bits of plastic that were once bags can get through our water treatment plants. Plastic bags enter the water from storm sewers or through littering and eventually breakdown into what looks like food to fish. Scientists have found that these bits of plastic can attract up to one million times more toxins than is measured in the ambient water that surround them. These toxins enter the food chain where they form a progressively greater risk for wildlife and human health.

Entanglement and ingestion of these bags results in slow starvation and eventual death for many wildlife animals including turtles, fish and shorebirds that we find in Minnesota. The plastic pollution problem may be even worse in the Great Lakes than in the oceans. A team of scientists found that the number of microparticles of plastics — which are more harmful to marine life because of their small size — was 24 percent higher in the Great Lakes than in samples they collected in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.

Plastic bags are made from polyethylene – a suspected human carcinogen, and often have additional additives that can cause other serious health threats. While it is true that no one knows exactly what impact this is having on animal and human health, it is one of the great unfortunate experiments of our generation that is being staged at the potential expense of our children and grandchildren who will ultimately suffer any unknown consequences.

Meanwhile there is evidence that bag bans and fees are effective: Ireland’s 2002 tax cut bag usage between 75 and 90 percent. An analysis of bag use in Australia found that 72 percent of customers accepted single-use bags that were offered for free. When a nominal fee was charged, usage dropped to 27 percent (33 percent switched to reusable bags and 40 percent made do without.) 4  In Mountain View, CA, over the course of their implementation of a bag ban and fee, shoppers using disposable bags decreased from 66% to 11%5). Since the state will not protect us we call on Gov. Dayton to veto this bill that would remove our democratic right to protect ourselves.



1- Morris, Jeffrey, Comparative LCAs for Curbside Recycling Versus Either Landfilling or Incineration with Energy Recovery, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, July 2005. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/content/m423181w2hh036n4

2 – http://newplasticseconomy.org/report-2017

3 – Texas Campaign for the Environment   www.texasenvironment.org

4 – http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/california-bans-plastic-bags

5 – City of Mountain View Council Report, September 16, 2014. Available at: http://www.cawrecycles.org/bag-ban-tool-kit

2 Responses to “Letter: Oppose preemption of plastic bag bans”

  1. Nancy Weiss

    I am interested in getting involved with an organization whose focus is on banning plastics. Can you help me find any in the Twin Cities? I tried to do a Google Search and I’m having difficulties narrowing. I found Cam Gordon, but not sure he would need volunteers. Thanks. 612-709-1531

    • Matt Doll

      Hi Nancy, Environment Minnesota is one of the MN organizations most focused on banning plastics. Clean Water Action – MN is also deeply involved.