What is fact? What is fiction? What is the truth?

Most people want to do the right thing for the environment and for wildlife. Plastic bags are targeted by good-intentioned environmentalists and citizens as a major cause of litter, landfill issues, and sustainability. And compostable, reusable, and paper bags are frequently hyped as a solution.

But what are the facts? When you explore the facts, and apply a little scientific proof, plastic bag bans are rooted in misunderstanding and misinformation. Mouse over the FACT icon or text to see facts you can verify.

Plastic trash in landfill increases 1. Does plastic and paper trash in landfills decrease? Do bag bans reduce trash?
Biodegradable bags do not help 2. Do biodegradable, compostable bags help?
More toxins in the environment 3. Do bans comply with the EPA?
More toxins in the environment 4. Do entities supporting bag bans comply with the FTC?
More toxins in the environment 5. Do bans lower toxins going into the environment?
Petroleum use increases 6. Does petroleum use decrease?
Energy and gasoline usage increases 7. Does a bag ban save energy and gasoline?
Health hazards increases 8. Are there any health hazards?
Air, water quality worsens 9. Is air and water quality improved?  
No effect on the Pacific garbage patch 10. What effect will litter have on the Pacific garbage patch?
Reuse bag create larger problems

11. Do reusable bags solve the landfill-litter-environmental problems?

Real single-use bags are not targeted

12. What are true single use bags?

There are solutions 13. Do bag bans promote sustainability? Who profits? Who pays for it?

There is a common sense solution.

Download the Problem and Solution white paper.

*All persons, companies, universities, and government agencies who wish to provide additional scientific evidence pertaining to plastic bag bans are welcome.

Answer: No, they do not comply with the FTC. In several ways they violate FTC guidelines for marketing claims in plastics. For example, legislation that supports biased 3rd parties who profit from its claims. The truth is distorted by claiming that composting is biodegradable, and yet states on its own documentation that "nothing biodegrades in a landfill".

Another misleading claim is that "it supports recycling". However, further research finds that its definition of recycling is via "composting". So how does this get recycled back into corn? Is it shipped back to the Midwest? Is corn grown at the landfill? Are corn starch recycling facilities built on the landfill? These acts and types of claims are in direct violation of FTC guidelines.

They also attempt to redefine the true meaning of words, as cited in Webster's dictionary. For example, it's definition of "biodegradable" relies on some sort of industrial facility decomposition, and is wildly different than Webster's definition, which is: bio·de·grad·able: Capable of being slowly destroyed and broken down into very small parts by natural processes, bacteria, etc. Human beings rely on dictionary definitions, especially when it comes to making claims about a product's qualities.

The inference in their choice of words and definitions is that they are "educating the people". Unfortunately, the vast majority of the scientific community does not agree with their claims, definitions, and understand the damage many of these erroneous claims.
Answer: No! Bag bans promoting or endorsing D6400 are not EPA compliant. In fact they immediately contribute to the proliferation of greenhouse gas, instead of reducing it. The Federal EPA wants and sponsors the production of electricity in landfills by capturing the LFG (landfill gas) gas produced from decomposing trash, and converting it into electricity.

The EPA refers to this as LMOP (Landfill Methane Outreach Program), which sponsors and funds the installation of electricity producing generators in landfills. The purpose is to divert greenhouse gas emissions and instead turn landfills into profit centers.

In order to comply, plastics must degradable in landfills within 25-30 years, when exposed to the elements. This is done by simply drilling LFG wells, that allow normal degradation to occur and LFG gases to be captured. The technology to cause common plastics to degrade in this desired time frame is widely available.

FACT: There is no scientific proof, visual ASTM verification, that D6400 compostable plastics fully degrade. According to the University of California, Chico, corn starch does not. This is a serious issue. And when it does, what do you think the residual substance will be? D6400 plastics are made from genetically modified (GMO) corn, with a huge question as to what happens with those molecular elements when they degrade? Doesn't it go without saying that if a material degraded 100%, that it would have ASTM verification, such as ASTM G21-09? After all, it is a relatively easy, inexpensive test to conduct.

See the Solutions link as there is a common sense solution that can significantly improve the environment and sustainability. There are plastics that have a higher standard and do comply.
Answer: Biodegradable bags falling under ASTM D6400 are hype. They are not EPA compliant, FTC compliant, and pose serious environmental questions:

  1. ASTM D6400 scientifically proves they immediately release greenhouse gas - methane and CO2 - into the atmosphere proliferating global warming.
  2. ASTM D6400 apply only to degradation in industrial facilities.
  3. Industrial composting facilities are few and far between. There are only a handful of commercial composting plants in California landfills.
  4. There is a glut of compost in those few landfill sites and it's unwanted. They charge customers to take it. CalRecycle is trying to divert it.
  5. D6400 bags are NOT biodegradable. BPI affirms compostable plastics thrown in trash do not degrade.
  6. D6400 plastics are not proven to degrade 100%, such as with ASTM G21-09 visual verification. Why?
  7. False marketing claims based on legislation such as AB 1972, propagate the sale and use of ASTM D6400 compostable plastics that are supposedly biodegradable. It gives permission to pollute.
  8. The marketing representations made by companies selling these products do not comply with FTC (Federal Trade Commission) guidelines.
  9. The claims made by these private and public entities are NOT certified by unbiased 3rd parties.
  10. D6400 products are not recyclable in traditional in-store recycling systems, as misleadingly inferred by BPI.
  11. When D6400 plastics degrade, their genetically-modified substances decompose into unknown quantities. There is no scientific evidence that it is harmless.
  12. D6400 products require substantially more energy to manufature and transport.
Answer: Plastic bag bans do not improve sustainability:

  1. Bans may add more plastic and petroleum products into landfills, thus depleting oil resources faster.
  2. It increases the dependency on oil for energy production.
  3. The use of D6400 bags immediately increase greenhouse gas production.
  4. D6400 bags increases GMO corn usage and removes it from the food supply.
  5. D6400 bags will increase food prices.
  6. There is only one plastics manufacturing entity in the world that has 3rd party certification verifying sustainability, Tirta Marta, Indonesia.

Answer: Those who profit from a bag ban include:

  1. Oil companies: Increased sales of resin, oil, and gasoline. Plastic sales in 2012 was $740 billion. It is projected to be over $1 trillion by 2018! Bag bans help attain this goal.
  2. Suppposedly degradable plastics companies: The D6400 companies that manufacture and sell its products do not comply with FTC marketing guidelines and are allowed to profit from their misinformation.
  3. Bag manufacturers: Increased sales of bags (both trash bags and reuse bags).
  4. Detergent manufacturers: Increased sales of detergents.
  5. Chemical companies: Increased sales of surfactants and other oil related byproducts.
  6. Paper and ink companies: Increased sales of retail cartons and printing ink.
  7. Energy companies: Increased use of electrical energy (40% fired by oil).
  8. Transportation companies: Increased trucking of paper, D6400 compostable bags, plastics, and detergent shipments.
  9. Municipalities and state government: Additional tax income from bags, increased tipping fees for the higher volume going into the landfill. Additional government jobs to monitor and administer a bag ban.
  10. Waste haulers: Increased fees for the additional trash they picked up and delivered to the landfill.
  11. Large retailers: New profit center from selling reuse bags, plus increased sales of trash bags.
  12. Environmental groups: Increased number of bag bans increases income.
Answer: You pay for it:
  1. At the retailer: The consumer pays additional taxes, fees, and the added expense to purchase trash liners and reuse bags.
  2. Energy expense: There is the additional burden on the use of energy and oil products for laundering.
  3. The environment: There is additional water and air pollution, plus harm to animal and aquatic life.
  4. Increase if food costs: The use of D6400 bags and slower customer check-out with reuse bags raises prices at the supermarket.
  5. Your health: Reuse bags can have an effect on health.
Reuse bags are dirtyAnswer: Reuse bags may worsen or contribute to landfill-litter problems. Surveys show that reuse bags must be used 171 - 300+ times to make up for the additional petroleum requirements and to overcome the effects on global warming (release of greenhouse gas). Even when used a substantial number of times, the user must still purchase plastic trash bags.

Accordingly, most reuse bags:

Will reuse bags go the way of curbside recycling? In California, residents frequently filled the bins with non-recyclables and incorrect items. They forgot to put them curbside, and many didn't use them at all. They simply lost interest and recyclables then end out in a landfill for the next 1000 years.

Click on the link Verification, and review the documents from the Environmental Agency of Great Britain, NCBI, universities, and various other entities.
Polluted waterAnswer: Air and water quality worsens. To prevent health hazards from bacteria and viruses, they must be regularly washed (once a week is recommended). Common sense prevails. Would you wear your clothes sevearal times a week without washing them? Reuse bags can harbor bacteria and germs and carry them from store to home...and back again. Plastic bags do not.

It is a well-known fact that residential laundry is one of the greatest sources of pollution to our water supplies, rivers, streams, lakes, ground water, and oceans. The pollution affects every last animal and marine organism.

If reusable bags are washed only once a month (once a week is recommended by health experts), it can represent up to an 8% increase in washings (due to their unsanitary nature most consumers put them in a separate wash). Even at 1/2 that, a 4% increase in washings is enormous. The laundry detergent industry is 6 billion dollars annually in the US. Here’s a visual picture of the potential added volume: Divide the cost of a jumbo economy box of Tide® detergent into $6,000,000,000 and it translates to over 140,000,000 boxes, about 126,000 truckloads. Fact: An 4% increase in laundry detergent = 5,600,000 more jumbo detergent boxes; 5,040 additional truckloads! This adds: According to the National Center of Biological Information (NCBI) surfactants used in laundry detergent to help remove dirt and grime from clothes are referred to as anionic or nonionic surfactants are dissolvable products derived from petroleum. They contribute to air and water pollution in both manufacture and worse, disposal.

According to the EPA and NCBI, surfactants are toxic to aquatic life. According to the NCBI all anionic surfactants are harmful to aquatic organisms. Most, if not all, laundry detergents use them. They reduce fish and plankton populations and contribute to lower birth rates. The EPA also warns of a link between surfactants and disruption to the endocrine system affecting metabolism, normal development, reproductive problems, and birth defects.

Health hazard from bag bansAnswer: there are new health concerns: Wharton University (U. of Penn), the University of Arizona, and the British Environmental Agency found that health hazards increase with a bag ban due to unsanitary reuse bags. Click on the “Verification” link and read the reports yourself.

There are additional health concerns with added toxins going into the environment from the manufacture of bulky reuse bags, paper bags, compostable bags, retail trash bag boxes with excessive ink, and the pollution related to these manufacturing operations. Paper producers are notorious polluters. This is compounded by the added toxins from laundry soap that has been proven harmful to aquatic life and the environment.

The toxicity of D6400 GMO cornstarch bags is unknown and considered by many scientists and environmentalists as being a serious health concern.
Truckloads are savedAnswer: Bag bans may increase energy requirements. Plastic bags use 1/3 to 1/4 the amount of energy required to make paper bags and D6400 compostable bags. They use 1/30 to 1/50 the amount of energy required to make reuse bags. They use about 1/2 to 1/3 the amount of energy required to make a trash bag replacement (includes the trash bag and the retail carton).

One truckload of plastic bags is equal to 8-10 truckloads of paper bags and 30 to 50 truckloads of reuse bags. Plastic bags use 1/8 to 1/10 the amount of gasoline to ship compared to paper and D6400 compostable bags, and 1/30 to 1/50 that of reuse bags.

Reuse bags may further increase energy requirements. Due to health concerns, reusable bags must be laundered. Each time they are washed it increases energy requirements. Everyone knows that the largest amount of energy used in a home is hot water, and next its washer and dryer. This typically amounts to more than 50% of a home's energy use. The energy use is enormous. There are also transportation costs related to the purchase and shipment of laundry soap, its packaging and so on. While this may seem minor, in perspective the alternatives do not have this requirement.

Depending on the study, Reuse bags must be reused from 171 - 318 times to make up for the added petroleum burden. A single plastic grocery sack uses .0127 lbs of petroleum products in its lifespan. A reuse bag laundered every two weeks (in an individual small washing of several bags) for one year uses 4.04 lbs. Go figure. In other words, you can use as many as 300 ordinary plastic sacks in a year resulting in the use of less petroleum byproducts than a single reuse bag. And you would still need to purchase trash bags.
Energy and petroleum use goes upAnswer: Petroleum use most likely increases. Common trash bags generally use about 80% more raw material than plastic grocery sacks. While it may be argued they can be filled fuller, the added capacity is not 80%. If a user prefers to use a paper bag instead, the energy requirements are three-fold higher, dramatically increasing the petroleum used to generate the electricity to manufacture. 40% of US energy is generated by oil-fired plants.

Reuse bags typically require about 20 times the raw material to manufacture, but more importantly, they consume from 30 to 50 times the amount of energy to manufacture. With an average of 8 reuses, their impact on sustainabiity of petroleum is negative. This is magnified by the added amount of energy required to wash them.

When it comes to the use of sustainablity of petroleum products, there is also the consumption of petroleum products used for transportation. Fact #7 further compounds the use of petroleum. Fact #11 summarizes the effects reuse bags may have.
Answer: There are dozens of true single-use plastic bags that contribute a higher volume of plastic to the trash stream than plastic sacks. These bags are not sorted for recycling at MRFs and landfills, nor should they be. Many contribute a substantially larger amount of trash than plastic grocery sacks (even though called a single use, over 90% get reused as trash bags).
Take a tour of your local landfill MRF (Material Recovery Facility) and it becomes apparent that plastic carry bags are a minute component, less than .4% (estimated in California) of the trash stream. Ban the bag and the .4% will be replaced with plastic trash bags that will equal an estimated .75% and reuse bags when they are thrown away (they are not recycled, nor can they be). Reuse bags can add another .5% to 1% to the trash stream.

  1. trash bags.
  2. produce bags.
  3. ice cream, meat bags.
  4. bakery bags.
  5. food take out bags.
  6. sandwich bags, baggies, freezer bags, etc.
  7. corn, potato chip, and snack bags.
  8. bulk produce bags such as 5lb potatoes, oranges, onion bags, etc.
  9. merchandise bags.
  10. deli bags.
  11. hot food bags for chicken, etc.
  12. consumer packaging bags for general merchandise.
  13. cereal box bag liners.
  14. frozen foods packaging.
  15. bulk cement and sand bags.
  16. pet food and litter bags.
  17. medical waste bags.
  18. gift bags.
  19. reuse bags.
  20. vacuum packaging bags.
  21. chemical compound packaging (industrial).
  22. parts and manual bags (i.e. inside a retail package).
  23. pallet covers.
River trashAnswer: Plastic litter from the United States is a very small part of the Pacific garbage patch. The plastic in the Pacific patch is primarily generated from slippage in landfills in Asia. Unfortunately too many are near rivers and oceans. Slippage causes landslides and trash then flows into a river's current, into the ocean and into the Pacific current. In many places in Asia, such as China, there is open dumping of trash right into rivers and the ocean. It is a “way to get rid of it”.

In the United States, plastic bags are cited as anywhere from .04% to .8% of all litter. Trash from the west coast of the US that finds its way to the ocean would tend to wash up on the west coast of Baja California in Mexico before going into the Pacific patch. There are no reported issues of litter washing up on the Mexican Pacific coast shoreline.

Much of Asia has been addressing its plastic trash issues. Many Asian countries, led by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, VietNam, Pakistan, and parts of Southern China have adopted laws that requires plastic packaging to be degradable, either bio-degradable or oxo-degradable (initiated by exposure to the sun). Oxo-degradable plastics become bio-available once the disintegration process begins. Degradable plastics can effectively end the litter issue once and for all.

Note: photos of the Pacific garbage patch taken by Tree Hugger, The Daily Green, and VBS tend to show a preponderance of other forms of waste such as wood, broken plastic objects, re-use bags and rope. According to National Geographic there is no visual picture of a large mass of trash, only smaller items such as glass bottles, aluminum cans, medical waste, tires, microplastics, and so on floating entangled above and below the surface. They do not cite plastic bags as a component. Google Images has no images and posts a "report images" link for "plastic grocery sacks in the Pacific garbage patch". Likewise, photos such as the above are commonly used to depict the supposed patch, but clearly it is a photograph near land, most likely in Asia and is 1000's of mile distant from where the alleged claims are made. See Verification link.
More toxins in the environmentAnswer: More toxins are released into the environment. For example, even though plastic grocery sacks are called "single use bags", most people reuse them as trash bags (90% or more). The massive ink on the box is greater than the amount of ink used to print the equivalent in plastic sacks. Although they use "non-toxic" inks, they still contain toxic heavy metals. If the consumer uses a paper bag instead, the amount of ink is 3 times that of a plastic bag. If the trash bag box or paper bag is recycled, the ink becomes a contaminant and either washed out and into the water supply (eventually into the oceans, lakes, or groundwater), or; it is carried through into the next product in which it is used, thus increasing its toxicity.

Toxicity is compounded by the large amount of paperboard used to manufacture the retail trash liner material and the toxins generated when boxes are manufactured. For example, there are from 25-50 retail boxes used for 1000 trash bags compared to only one carton (usually recycled material with a single black imprint) for 1000 grocery sacks. It is well known that paper mills are among the worst polluters in the world.

The trash issue is further compounded. The 25-50 retail boxes go into larger cardboard cartons (1-2 or more), which use more ink and create more trash. Plastic grocery sacks don't require additional cardboard cartons since they are packaged and shipped in bulk. Read Fact #4 about added energy and gas costs.

D6400 bags are an unknown toxic liability. Since it is made with GMO corn, and uses a two-step approach to manufacturing, it generates a substantial amount of waste that is unaccounted for. Literally the dead GMO enzymes that eat the corn and extract the starch becomes a slurry of unknown toxic quantity. The safe disposal of this waste should be evaluated by unbiased 3rd parties and scientifically verified through ASTM that it is non-toxic and elicits no harm to the environment and the delicate balance of life on planet earth.

Polyethylene is not toxic. In fact, it is inert. Polyethylene is a hydrocarbon: hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. It is the same chemical make-up as sugar. The only difference is that the molecular chains are very, very long and cannot be eaten by microbes. These long chains don't degrade for 500 to 1000 years. Its long life before degradation begins is an issue that needs to be resolved.

All inks are toxic. Ink toxicity is less in water-based inks than in oil-, soy-, or alcohol-based inks, but it is still toxic. A good analogy is what would you rather drink...a cup of oil-based paint or acrylic paint? The answer or course is neither. While inks are indeed toxic, the most toxic tend to be red inks (cadmium).

Some reuse bags may actually increase toxins in the environment. According to the Environmental Agency of Great Britain, plastic bags are 200 times less damaging to the climate than reusable cotton bags. And canvas bags have to be used a minimum of 171 times to reach a break even point. According to one source the Chicobag(TM) can be used as few as 11 times, but that type of bag is impractical for large grocery purchases. Their claim is not qualified by an independent third party. Read more in Fact #8.
Bag bans increase trash volume in landfillsAnswer: Plastic and paper trash in landfills may very well increase. 90% to 95% of all plastic carry sacks worldwide are reused as trash bags. They are not true "single use bags". Common sense tells us that when plastic sacks are eliminated, the sales of trash bags goes up proportionately. Since trash bags use more raw material than a grocery sack, plastic volume going into landfills will most likely increase. Manufacturers of grocery sacks and trash bags know this fact well: bag bans increase the sales of trash bags.

Paper trash in landfills also increases. With the added sales of plastic trash bags, the volume of paperboard boxes in landfills increases. Since there are from 25-50 trash bags per box, the additional paper volume going into the landfill is substantial. For example, a small 20% annual increase in trash liners sales (it will be much higher), requires about 50 million boxes a year. That is the equivalent of about 625 - 800 truckloads of new paperboard going to the landfill! This is equal to 25-32 billion plastic sacks.

Trash bag sales plummeted with the introduction of the plastic grocery sack. It is true, it was one of the biggest complaints of supermarket when they began using plastic grocery sacks. Many were slow to convert to plastic because it affected their sales of trash bags. The introduction was a major contribution to the closing of two large trash liner manufacturing facilities owned by Mobil Chemical in the early 1990's, and contributed to the demise of several other producers such as Western Pacific, Argon Industries, and so on.

Are there other motives behind the support of plastic bag bans? Look who profits. To retailers: a) increase in sales of trash bags, and b) in many instances consumer pay a second time (via a tax to a city or county) for carry out packaging. To oil companies and bag makers: a) increased sales of resin and trash bags offsets the loss of sales of from plastic carry bags. There is additional profit from the supply of raw material for non-recyclable reuse bags. Since reuse bags average about 8 uses, about 2 1/2 times more raw material is used. Fact #10 elaborates on others who profit.