Liberal Policies are Killing California!

The Bad Economics of California’s Bag Ban: How It Kills People, Nature, & Jobs

“There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.”  —Frédéric Bastiat

Jerry Brown Signs a Killer Law

On September 30, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed a statewide ban on plastic bags in California.  Under SB270, plastic bags will be gone from large grocery stores by July of 2015, and convenience stores and pharmacies must stop using them by 2016.

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Environmental Impact

Under SB270, grocers will charge a fee of 10 cents for paper bags.  So, plastic is gone from stores, but now more paper will be used.  How is this a win for the environment?  Will this not mean killing more trees for paper?  And paper bags take up over ten times more space, by volume, than plastic bags.  Plastic bags only represent 0.6% of the municipal-waste stream in America.  And the truth is that single-use plastic bags use fewer resources than reusable bags, because, potentially, you have to wash them often enough to maintain sanitary conditions for food transport—which requires water, electricity (or, in some cases, gas), and detergent.   But, in reality, people tend not to wash these bags very often, if they even wash them at all.  Immediately following the implementation of the San Francisco plastic-bag ban of 2007, emergency room admissions actually increased in the City on the Bay.

A Deadly Consequence

According to research carried out by law professors Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright—which was done for the Wharton School Institute for Law and Economics—food-borne-illness deaths went up in San Francisco, as a consequence of the plastic-bag ban.  The ban “led to an increase in infections immediately upon implementation.”  Could such a ban be potentially deadly for many?  “Why, of course not!” say most Democrats, despite the fact that there has been a 46% rise in food-borne-illness deaths in San Francisco, since the ban.  With respect to the demise of human beings, this averages out to an increase of 5.4 more deaths yearly.

Business Leaders Take Issue with the Law

bag banA national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers has immediately proposed a voter referendum to repeal this law, which takes effect by July of 2015.  California is about 12.5% of the population of the US.  How many bag sales, and therefore jobs, will this kill nationwide?


“If this law were allowed to go into effect, it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment, and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets,” said Lee Califf, Executive Director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which aired commercials in California criticizing the ban as a cash-giveaway to grocers that would lead to the killing of thousands of manufacturing jobs.  The American Forest and Paper Association also opposed the bag ban, saying it unfairly treats their commonly recycled products like plastic, while it holds plastic bags to a lower recyclable-content standard.


Responding to job-loss concerns, the bag-ban bill includes two million dollars in loans for plastic-bag manufacturers to help them become reusable-bag manufacturers, but who knows if this is enough money, and why should taxpayers be burdened with another avoidable expense?


Fairness Problems

Lawmakers of both parties who opposed SB270 said it would be unfair to lower-income residents by charging them for what were once free bags, so the bill now entitles people on public relief to free bags that taxpayers are not entitled to.  It would seem California deals more than fairly with one group and less than fairly with the other.


A Careless Statement

A highly misleading statement was released on the web site of California Assembly Member Matt Dababneh (, who was a big supporter of the bill: “Each year in California . . . only 3% [of plastic bags] are recycled. . . .”  This is an inaccurate statement at best.  The problem with this claim is that it does not take into account private recycling along the lines of reusing these bags as trash-can liners, among other uses.


And now that these thinner bags have been banned, consumers will now have to resort to purchasing their thicker counterparts for home use.  This must be why San Francisco has, allegedly, not seen a significant decline in plastic in their waste stream; indeed, at least one study has indicated that plastic in San Francisco garbage, post-ban, has actually increased!  The thicker bags people are being forced to use nowadays would seem to be the reason behind this.


Dababneh’s statement also quotes Angela Sun’s claim that “[t]his bill is a historic step forward not just for California but also an example for a more sustainable world,” ignoring all ramifications for a possible uptick in the cutting of trees that this measure will potentially require.  Sun is the director of environmentalist documentary films.


Upon passage of the new law, Dababneh further claimed on his California Assembly web site that “[p]lastic bags cause litter, harm wildlife and endanger the environment, they jam machinery at recycling centers costing California millions dollars each year.”  These claims are not entirely in good faith.  First, if these bags are not in use, the litter and harm that they allegedly cause will likely be replaced with harms committed by store-bought plastic bags that are thicker than the ones we are getting rid of.  And second, any recycling costs that are being passed off to Californians can only increase, if these plastic bags are to be replaced by the thicker ones.


God Save Us All

God save the United States of America from all the unintended consequences of social engineers who would protect us from ourselves.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico have pending bag-ban legislation in the works as well.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

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