Grocers and other retailers nation-wide pack consumers’ purchases inplastic bags. However, a growingnumber of jurisdictions — includingLos Angeles County, and cities suchas Austin and Seattle — have banned
the use of thin-lm plastic bags.Other local governments, such as the
Washington, D.C., city council, haveimplemented a per-bag tax.This study reports the resultsof a new survey conducted by theNational Center for Policy Analysisregarding the plastic bag ban recentlyimplemented in Los Angeles County.It also examines the economic,environmental and health effects of bag bans and analyzes their potential
costs and benets.
Banning plastic bags causes
signicant economic harm.
Proponents of plastic bag bansprimarily argue that such bansreduce the amount of waste entering
landlls, lessen litter problems, help
protect the environment and reducepetroleum consumption. However,none of these claims is supportedby facts. Banning plastic bans isharmful to local economies and is
not environmentally justied.
Economic Effectsof the Los AngelesCounty Bag Ban
In 2011, the Los Angeles CountyBoard of Supervisors passed anordinance outlawing retailers’ use of
thin-lm polyethylene bags to pack
consumers’ purchases. The bag banwas implemented in unincorporated
areas (outside of city limits) of Los
Angeles County in two stages. At
rst, the bag ban applied to large
stores —with gross annual sales of at least $2 million or with 10,000square feet of retail space—
effectiveJuly 1, 2011. The second stage of the ban included storeswith grossannual sales of less than $2 million orless than 10,000 square feet of retailspace
and became effective January1, 2012. These stores includedsmallgrocery stores, drug stores andconvenience stores.County leaders assumed that theordinance would eliminate the useof plastic bags and leave consumers
with two choices: 1) shoppers could
bring a personal reusable bag or othercontainer to carry their goods, or
2) consumers could pay for a paper
bag, with the fee acting as a penaltyor deterrent to this option. When thecounty conducted its Environmental
Impact Report (EIR) in 2009 it stated:
Should the proposed ordinancesbe adopted, it is anticipated thatthere would be a transition periodduring which consumers wouldswitch to reusable bags. The Countyanticipates that a measurablepercentage of affected consumerswould subsequently use reusable bags
(this percentage includes consumerscurrently using reusable bags) once
the proposed ordinances take effect.The County further anticipates thatsome of the remaining consumers,those who choose to forgo reusablebags, may substitute plastic carryoutbags with paper carryout bags.
These were the only two choicescounty leaders considered. Theyfailed to consider a third option: thatconsumers would shop at storesunaffected by the ban — that is,stores in the incorporated areasof Los Angeles County. They didnot consider the possibility thatcommerce would migrate, or bedisplaced, due to the law. In orderto determine the effectiveness andconsequences of the Los AngelesCounty plastic bag ban, the NCPAconducted a survey of 80 large stores
(supermarkets and variety stores)
affected by the ban beginning in July2011. Additionally, each large store inunincorporated Los Angeles Countywas matched with one or two otherstores within two miles and alsoin an incorporated area. The storeswere matched in order to comparethe effect of any displacement of commerce due to the ban.The NCPA also contactedanother list of 700 smaller storesin unincorporated areas that wereaffected by the ban beginning January1, 2012. Through letters, phone calls,emails and follow-up personal visits,NCPA staff sought responses to thesurvey from store managers. Theresponse rate was 3 percent. [SeeAppendix I for the telephone scriptused.] [For a list of the questionsasked, see Appendix II.]
Impact on Sales.
Followingthe ban, sales increased at stores inincorporated cities compared with
stores in unincorporated areas. Of the
respondents to the survey:
■Over a one-year period (pre-and post-bag ban), 60 percent
of stores in incorporated areasreported an increase in salesaveraging 9 percent.
■Fourth-fths of the stores in the
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