Plastic bags are thought to endanger marine animals

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

Plastic bags are thought to endanger marine animals, but they may protect us humans:

San Francisco County was the first major US jurisdiction to enact such a regulation, implementing a ban in 2007 and extending it to all retailers in 2012. There is evidence, however, that reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria, especially coliform bacteria such as E. coli. We examine deaths and emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that both deaths and ER visits spiked as soon as the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, deaths in San Francisco increase by 50-100 percent, and ER visits increase by a comparable amount. Subsequent bans by other cities in California appear to be associated with similar effects.

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”


  1. Kirk says:

    The thing that just yikes me, after all this BS about the plastic bags… Do any of you remember how we got here? All the fuss and bother about how we were cutting down forests to make paper bags, and how much damage that did to the environment?

    One rather gets the impression that the only way to make an environmental extremist happy would be to lay down and die, though they’d probably find something to criticize about that.

    Simpler solution? Compost the environmentalist.

  2. Graham says:

    I remember paper bags. Hated them. Plastic bags were awesome; they had handles. Carrying capacity vastly improved.

    Around here about 15 or so years ago supermarkets started getting plastic bags that were made far more cheaply and were far less robust. I assume that meant less plastic use. It may have had the effect of driving customers to the reusables, which at least held together over many trips instead of falling apart in the middle of the first. But the plastic bags are still on offer, and still crappy.

    I am surprised at the number of businesses going back to paper up here.

  3. Bruce says:

    I’ve never seen good numbers comparing the good marine life gets from sea life attaching holdfasts to plastic bags and thriving near the surface, with the evils of critters swallowing the bags and not being able to poop them out.

  4. Graham says:

    The idea of lifeforms forming sustaining habitats on bits of another lifeform’s garbage at sea sounds like the basis of a good SF novel.

    I’d read that either from:

    the perspective of an intelligence sea creature living in such a habitat [relative scale could be an element]

    the perspective of a human who discovers this is the underlying reality of our galactic civilization.

    Eh. Both have probably been done.

  5. Sam J. says:

    I read that most of the plastic that ends up in the Ocean comes from the the third world where they throw most of their trash on the ground. So there’s not a damn thing we can do about the plastic in the Oceans.

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