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Plastic bag bans may drive other bag sales

When cities or counties institute plastic bag bans or fees, the idea is to reduce the amount of plastic headed to the landfill. 


But a new analysis by a University of Georgia researcher finds these policies, while created with good intentions, may cause more plastic bags to be purchased in the communities where they are in place. The study was published earlier this year in the journal Environmental and Resource Economics. 


That’s because while plastic grocery bags are viewed as a single-use item, they often find a second use as liners for small trash cans. When these shopping bags are taxed or taken away, people look for alternatives—which means they buy small plastic garbage bags. 


“We know there is a demand for using plastic bags, and we know, if these policies go into effect, some bags will disappear or will become more costly to get,” said Yu-Kai Huang, a postdoctoral researcher at the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “So, we wanted to see the effectiveness of this policy in reducing bag usage overall.” 


Previous studies have looked at the effect of bag bans on plastic consumption, but not the combined effects of fees or a bag ban. An environmental economist, Huang used a new way to calculate the effect of either policy while also accounting for variables such as residents’ income levels and an area’s population density, both of which influence the amount of trash generated in a community.

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