Minnesota Joins States Fighting Plastic Bag Ban

Minnesota routinely receives national recognition for leading the way among the states on environmental issues. But today the Wall Street Journal singled out the state for being at the forefront of a different sort of preservation campaign–the preservation of plastic bags as an option in the checkout line.images

In an article headlined “Bans Over Plastic Bags Face a Growing Backlash” the paper noted momentum has shifted away from bans and restrictions on plastic bags that started in predictably liberal cities and states. Activists claim plastic bags harm the environment more than paper and reusable bags.

Business groups are fighting back against plastic bag bans across the country, setting up collisions between manufacturers, environmentalists and lawmakers.

A decade after San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags, dozens of municipalities have followed suit. Others like New York and Washington, D.C., have added fees for using some bags. California banned plastic bags at major retailers in 2014.

Yet on this environmental issue, Minnesota has more in common with states like Arizona, Idaho and Missouri than California and New York.

More recently, more states with backing from plastic bag manufacturers and other business groups have pushed back with bills preventing such bans. In May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, signed a bill to prevent cities from banning plastic, paper or reusable bags. The move killed a plastic bag ban in Minneapolis passed last year. At least five states have similar laws that prevent such bans.

Perhaps Gov. Dayton should should weigh in with his Democratic counterpoint in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf has threatened to veto a bill passed by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled House and Senate with Democratic support to prohibit the banning of plastic bags.

In Pennsylvania, plastic bag manufacturers urged Gov. Wolf to reconsider his stance on the bill, saying it protects jobs and encourages recycling.

“Government-enacted bag ordinances inevitably restrict consumer choice, and a strong majority of Americans prefer the promotion of voluntary recycling programs to government regulation aimed at plastic bags,” said Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry-supported group.

In fact, American Experiment’s Peter Nelson recently reported that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has posted information showing plastic bags do less environmental harm than paper or reusable bags. The MPCA cites a study that shows that activists who care about the issue should demand plastic, not paper.

Depending on the recyclable content, the average environmental impact of paper bags was about 4 to 7.5 time greater than plastic bags.  Plastics can also beat reusable bags because most people don’t reuse them enough to offset the much larger environmental impact in creating and disposing of them.