Last week, the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 280, which would prohibit the distribution of certain plastic bags. Plastic shopping bags have become the standard in many U.S. grocery stores. As such, they have also become a major pollutant in our sewers, landfills and water systems. More than 230 cities and counties have passed laws that ban or tax plastic bags. However, these bans may be hurting the environment more than helping it.

On one hand, we know that fewer plastic bags are used in cities with plastic bag bans. This has led to about 40 million fewer pounds of plastic trash per year. On the other hand, people who use their shopping bags for other purposes, such as picking up pet waste or lining trash cans, still need bags. The sale of garbage bags subsequently skyrocketed in cities where plastic grocery bags were banned. Four-gallon bags saw a 120 percent increase in sales after bans went into effect. Trash bags are no better for the environment than plastic shopping bags and are thicker than shopping bags, leading to more plastic. Thus, the plastic that is eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of more plastic. Additionally, cities with the ban saw an increase of 80 million pounds of extra trash per year due to the increase and use of paper bags.

But isn’t paper better than plastic? You would be surprised. There are several studies to show that paper bags are worse for the environment than their plastic counterparts. Paper bags require the process of cutting down and processing trees, which involves more water use, chemicals, fuel and heavy machinery than plastic bags, leading to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the switch to reusable cloth bags may not be much better. A study conducted by the Danish government found the process of making cotton bags, including water use and greenhouse gas emissions, did more damage to ecosystems and air pollution. It’s also estimated that one would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 more times than a plastic grocery bag to make using it better for the environment.

With that being said, plastic bags still take the crown for being the worst offender for littering, both in the land and sea. There is still a lot of work to be done to reduce single-use plastic pollution, but I am not sure banning plastic bags altogether is the right answer. I believe we can all vote our shopping preference each time we visit our favorite store.

I would love to hear your thoughts on whether or not you think certain types of plastic bags should be banned. Please contact me by phone or email with your opinion.

On another note, the Senate will meet back in session on Tuesday, February 18. Last week, I participated in multiple Appropriations Subcommittee meetings including agriculture, fiscal management and general government, higher education, and economic development. With budgets in mind, my goal is to maintain a conservative spending model and make sure your hard-earned taxpayer dollars are going to good use. Thank you for your continued trust in me. Together we are going to continue to make Georgia and Senate District 47 the best place it can be.

Sen. Frank Ginn serves as Chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee. He represents the 47th Senate District which includes Barrow and Madison counties and portions of Clarke and Jackson counties. He can be reached at 404.656.4700 or by email at frank.ginn@senate.ga.gov.

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