This is in response to the Jan. 31 letter to the editor from Ms. Johnston regarding a plastic bag ban and the article in the Aiken Standard on Feb. 1 concerning consideration of banning plastic bags.
Ms. Johnston and the “Energy and Environmental Committee” member Mr. A. Hallen are quoted as saying that 1. plastic bags are made from oil and 2. “… they add to the demand for oil.” Both comments are in error. Plastic bags are made from clean energy, natural gas, specifically from ethane that is often burned off in the natural gas refining process so that the gas will not burn too hot when used to heat homes. Rather than burning it off, the industry has chosen to make use of it through the manufacture of bags.
The committee’s opinion that single-use plastic bags will continue to cause huge pollution problems isn’t supported by the science. According to several Life Cycle Assessment studies, plastic shopping bags outperform paper bags environmentally – on manufacturing, on reuse, and on solid waste volume and generation. On solid waste: Paper has a much greater mass and weighs five to seven times more than plastic bags, so paper requires five to seven times the transportation and tonnage to the waste stream. All this in turn results in a fivefold to sevenfold increase in greenhouse gas emissions. To summarize, compared to paper, plastic grocery bags consume 40% less energy, generate 80% less solid waste, produce 70% fewer atmospheric emissions and release up to 94% fewer waterborne wastes.
In Aiken County, and in South Carolina, litter is a problem. Bags (both plastic and paper) along with aluminum cans, bottles, etc. are an ongoing litter problem – which is a cultural problem. America is a country where surveys consistently point to the fact that 80% of the litter that you see has been thrown on the ground with “notable intent” (kab.org). Travel to Switzerland, Germany or Japan and you will find that they don’t have a litter problem as it’s in their culture to treat the environment with courtesy.
Perhaps the Energy and Environmental Committee should reorient their focus on helping to solve the entire litter problem in Aiken.