Corman: Independent Studies Show Environmental Impact, Cost of Single-Use Plastic Bag Bans

(HARRISBURG) – Findings from the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) and Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) show that policies that restrict, add fees to, or ban single-use plastic bags could negatively impact the environment and cost consumers millions annually.

The two independent agencies were required under Act 20 of 2019 to issue a report on the economic and environmental impacts, as well as the effects on residents that policies banning or attaching fees to single-use plastic bags have, according the Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34).

“The findings illustrate how simply outlawing single-use plastic bags is not a clear cut issue,” Senator Corman said. “The work by both the LBFC and the IFO have taken the politics and emotion out of the issue and provided some important research. We can now use this information to make a more educated decision on what – if any – policy changes need to be made when it comes to single-use plastic bag policies.”

The LBFC found the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags to be significantly less than that of a paper bag. According to its study, cotton carrier bags needed to be used as many as 7,100 times to reduce its environmental impacts to that of a single-use plastic bag.

“The desire of local municipalities to ban the use of single-use plastic bags cannot be made in a vacuum,” Senator Corman said. “Many of the preconceived notions about single-use plastic bags are not based in the reality of customer re-usage of the bags or the manufacturing process that continues to make improvements in order to reduce its environmental footprint.”

The LBFC also highlighted sanitary concerns with reusable grocery bags (RGB), which, according to its research, can be a transmission pathway for bacteria and viruses to other shoppers and store employees. Many retailers banned the use of reusable bags due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Further, research shows that RGBs are not used enough times to offset the associated environmental impacts,” the LBFC said. “Consequently, at a time when Pennsylvania is dealing with a pandemic and encouraging citizens to exercise social distance protocols and other hygienic practices, a negative public health consequence may result from having residents rely upon RGBs, if single-use plastic bags are banned.”

The IFO study found that a ban would result in a total consumer cost increase of $72 million annually and a per capita cost increase for all state residents of $5.60. Bans also would result in more than 500 Pennsylvania jobs being lost.

 “These two independent studies that are specific to Pennsylvania show that changes to bag policies would not have the positive environmental impact people want but will negatively impact our local economies,” Senator Corman said. “The companies that manufacture these bags provide family-sustaining jobs in communities throughout Pennsylvania. These are jobs that would be lost under policies that this research shows do not have the desired environmental impact.”

Contact: Jenn Kocher – jkocher@pasen.gov