The country is debating whether or not banning certain kinds of guns might save lives. In the spirit of public safety, it’s worth looking at a different ban we’re learning is actually costing lives: Bans on plastic bags.
Tim Taylor sheds helpful light on the subject in a discussion of San Francisco’s plastic bag ban:
One recent local environmental cause, especially popular in California, has been to ban or tax plastic grocery bags. The expressed hope is that shoppers will instead carry reusable grocery bags back and forth to the grocery store, and that plastic bags will be less likely to end up in landfills, or blowing across hillsides, or floating in water. The problem is that almost no one ever washes their reusable grocery bags. Reusuable grocery bags often carry raw meat, unseparated from other foods, and are often stored for convenience in the trunk of cars that sit outside in the sun. In short, reusuable grocery bags can be a friendly breeding environment for E. coli bacteria, which can cause severe illness and even death.
… San Francisco typically experiences about 12 deaths per year from intestinal infections, and that the restrictions on plastic bags probably let to another 5-6 deaths per year in that city–plus, of course, the personal and social costs of some dozens of additional hospitalizations. With these costs taken into account, restrictions on plastic bags stop looking like a good idea.
NB: When he was here, our own Ken Green was way ahead of the curve on this issue.