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Plastic Bags Help the Environment

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Plastic bag bans are deeply misguided. John Tierney writes:

[S]ingle-use plastic bags aren’t the worst environmental choice at the supermarket—they’re the best. High-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering and environmental efficiency. They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint.

Once discarded, they take up little room in landfills. That they aren’t biodegradable is a plus, because they don’t release greenhouse gases like decomposing paper and cotton bags. The plastic bags’ tiny quantity of carbon, extracted from natural gas, goes back underground, where it can be safely sequestered from the atmosphere and ocean in a modern landfill with a sturdy lining.

If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions and plastic pollution, we can take some obvious steps: Repeal misguided plastic-bag bans. Stop exporting plastic waste to countries that allow it to leak into the ocean. Help those countries establish modern systems for collecting and processing their own plastic waste. Send plastic waste straight to landfills and incinerators. Step up enforcement of laws and treaties that restrict nations from polluting the ocean and prohibit mariners from littering the seas.

[John Tierney, "Plastic Bags Help the Environment," The Wall Street Journal, February 18]

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