Preventing Single-Use Bag Pollution

Preventing Single-Use Bag Pollution

Reusable grocery and carry-out bags help prevent plastic bag pollution and conserve precious resources. Millions of Texans bring their own bags to the store when they shop, and with 10 cities having passed single-use bag ordinances at the local government level, Texas is one of the leading states to prevent single-use bag pollution. Dallas and Austin have already passed ordinance, and now San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Fort Worth could be next.

Local ordinances are spreading throughout Texas because voluntary efforts to curb plastic bag pollution have proven ineffective. Most municipal recycling programs do not accept plastic bags, since they damage sorting machinery and waste labor time. Estimates are that less than 1% are getting recycled at retail chains and facilities that do offer plastic bag recycling.[1] Billions of plastic bags are ending up in the environment, where they harm livestock and marine life, or they end up in landfills. Since local governments and working communities bear most of the burden of clean-up and pollution, residents have called for local ordinances to address the many problems associated with single-use bags:

  • Plastic bag pollution can cost taxpayers up to a dollar per person per year. The City of Austin prepared a cost analysis estimating a cost to taxpayers of up to $800,000 per year for bag pollution. That means in total, Texas residents could be spending up to $25 million in taxes annually on clean-up.[2]
  • Paper bags have their own negative impacts. It requires 10 times as many eighteen-wheelers to bring paper bags to your local grocery store than it does to deliver plastic bags. They also cost retailers more to provide. Retailers such as H-E-B support inclusion of paper bags in single-use bag ordinances.[3] Each year the US consumes 10 billion paper bags, requiring 14 million trees.
  • Coastal regions experience wildlife threats and polluted tourist areas. Brownsville, South Padre Island, and Laguna Vista passed ordinances to protect their beaches and save tax dollars, and Corpus Christi has followed suit with its own proposed ordinance.
  • Cattle are especially at risk of consuming plastic bags. The International Cattle Association reports, "Plastic ingestion is one real killer of cattle today with almost no known cure...There is no vaccination, no world wide USDA press releases about thousands of cattle dead every year. It is just a quiet and painful way for cattle to die with several difficult symptoms to confuse the issue."[4] West Texas cities such as Fort Stockton and Kermit have passed ordinances in part to protect livestock.

Texas Cities Bag the Bags

This interactive map shows Texas cities that have passed or proposed local single-use bag ordinances:

Hundreds of cities outside of Texas and around the world already have bag ordinances.[5] Now that Dallas, Brownsville, Laredo, Fort Stockton, South Padre Island, Austin, Laguna Vista, Freer, Sunset Valley and Kermit, TX have all passed single-use bag ordinances, it’s time for San Antonio, Fort Worth and Corpus Christi to listen to concerned voters and taxpayers. Your letters and emails make all the difference. Take Action Now!

The Story of Solutions

The Story of Stuff has produced this video which explains the concept of community organizing to implement effective solutions such as single-use bag ordinances. To learn more about Zero Waste as a long-term goal, see our page on Zero Waste solutions.

[1] See Clean Air Council, Waste and Recycling Facts

[2] See City of Austin, Austin Cost of Plastic Bags Study

[3] See City of Austin, City Council Meeting March 1, 2012. Start video at 32 min to watch Leslie Sweet's testimony on behalf of H-E-B.

[4] See International Texas Longhorn Association, "Mysterious Cattle Deaths?" by Darol Dickinson

[5] See Surfrider Foundation, Plastic Bag Bans and Fees