San Francisco’s Plastic Bag Ban Kills About 5 People a Year
I was aware of the negative economic consequences of plastic bag bans and plastic bag taxes, both for bag manufacturers and businesses that use the bags. I was also aware that when you raise the price of things (as the plastic bag tax does in places like D.C.), you make things harder for the people least able to adjust to arbitrary price increases — the poor. And I was aware that any environmental benefit we’re likely to see from bag bans and bag taxes is speculative at best.
I was not aware that the plastic bag bans have a death toll, as Ramesh Ponnuru writes in Bloomberg:
Warning of disease may seem like an over-the-top scare tactic, but research suggests there’s more than anecdote behind this industry talking point. In a 2011 study, four researchers examined reusable bags in California and Arizona and found that 51 percent of them contained coliform bacteria. The problem appears to be the habits of the reusers. Seventy-five percent said they keep meat and vegetables in the same bag. When bags were stored in hot car trunks for two hours, the bacteria grew tenfold.
Klick and Wright estimate that the San Francisco ban results in a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses, or 5.5 more of them each year. They then run through a cost-benefit analysis employing the same estimate of the value of a human life that the Environmental Protection Agency uses when evaluating regulations that are supposed to save lives. They conclude that the anti-plastic-bag policies can’t pass the test — and that’s before counting the higher health-care costs they generate.