A researcher who studies the environmental effectiveness of recycling admits that he “can’t stand” the plastic-bag ban:
Part of the reason can be found in the quote you cited:
Although plastic bags’ manufacture is relatively energy intensive (according to the Australian government, a car could drive 36 feet with the amount of petroleum used to make a single plastic bag) …
Doesn’t the author realize that she has just refuted herself? The proper gist of that sentence is:
Plastic bag manufacture is remarkably energy-cheap (a car could drive 36 feet with the amount of petroleum used to make a single plastic bag).
Thirty-six feet is a little more than four parking spaces. What the writer is saying – and this is a fact – is that if you recycle your plastic bags, you literally burn more fuel driving across the parking lot to the recycling bin than you save by recycling! It’s just another example of innumeracy that such an argument can actually be made in favor of the ban.
The plastic bag ban is a valid policy approach for exactly one environmental hazard: litter, and specifically marine litter. In that perspective, a sharp curtailment of use would be greatly welcome, as long as it is done with knowledge of the fact that many of the alternatives (paper bags, laundered reusable bags) are significantly more energy- and resource-intensive than plastic bags.
Anyway, in terms of the energy demands of a reasonably comfortable western lifestyle, bag choice is more or less trivial. If people are looking to reduce their carbon footprint, they should take those reusable bags and hoof it down the sidewalk instead of driving.
Another reader spots an apparent error in the history of plastic bags we referenced:
The chronology mentions reports of suffocation occurring in 1959, but I believe that had to do with the plastic used to cover dry-cleaned clothing. The plastic used for that purpose was very flimsy and clingy, which is what caused the suffocation hazard. There’s a scene in “Mad Men” in the first season where Sally is walking around in the plastic and Betty berates her not for wearing the plastic but for possibly wrinkling the clothes.
The Wikipedia entry for plastic bags says that the patent for the material was in 1965, so I don’t think plastic bags were ever in use prior to that time. I don’t remember plastic bags on the scene until the early eighties. Most grocery store paper bags that I remember from the sixties and seventies did not have handles. I think those came later in response to the plastic.