Banning single-use plastic bags results in more plastic bag waste

The city of Austin, TX implemented a single-use plastic bag ban in 2013 and two years later they did an assessment which revealed the proportion of plastic bags in the waste had increased, not decreased. From Bloomberg:

What the city didn’t foresee is that residents would start treating reusable bags like single-use bags. The volume of reusable plastic bags now turning up at the city’s recycling centers has become “nearly equivalent to the amount of all of the single use bags removed from the recycling stream as a result of the ordinance implemented in 2013,” according to the assessment. And those lightly used bags are landfill-bound, because recycling isn’t any more cost-effective for reusable plastic bags than the single-use variety. — Bloomberg

The city did do an assessment after 2 years (available here), and should be commended for that, but the main issue is that they never tested their new policy on a small sample.

It would have been simple to:

  • implement the ban voluntarily in a few stores or accross a whole neighboorhood
  • monitor the number of reusable bags distributed in these stores

If the same number of bags is distributed, you know the ban is failing to achieve its objectives.

Always, always test on a sample first to avoid disastrous backfires. Here: more pollution and a lot of money wasted on the ban ($3 million on promoting it alone…).