Many cities are trying to become more environmentally friendly, sometimes by cracking down on the use of plastic bags.
In November, California voters upheld a statewide ban on plastic bags, and required grocery stores to charge at least 10 cents for each paper bag. Many other cities across the country have similar laws.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s plastic bag ban has proven so unpopular that the city council decided to repeal it. However, they replaced the bag ban with a 7-cent tax on both paper and plastic bags.
Proponents of these bans believe they help improve the environment, because the plastic bags might wind up in the wetland areas and could put wildlife at risk.
But there is evidence out of Great Britain that plastic bag bans and restrictions could put human health at risk. Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) believes that the plastic bag restrictions and taxes are contributing to food poisoning because they believe customers are reluctant to use the bags to wrap raw meat separately.
From The Telegraph:
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, [FSA Chairwoman] Heather Hancock revealed the FSA wants shoppers to be handed free disposable bags when buying raw chicken, with special reminders to use them at self-service checkouts.
As bacteria can lurk on the outside of packaging as well as on the inside, she said, an extra plastic bag layer is the “only way” shoppers can be sure they are not spreading bugs onto other food in their shopping baskets.
It comes as fears are mounting that the spread of dangerous bugs including E-coli and campylobacter, is being made worse by the 5p plastic bag tax as people are less likely to pay for a bag to protect other food from raw meat.
Some British supermarket chains are now encouraging customers to use small, disposable plastic bags that are not covered by the tax to wrap meats. But others are working on other forms of bacteria-resistant food packaging.
Another contributing factor to the rise of food poisoning in places with plastic bag restrictions is self-checkout lanes that do not have the small disposable bags necessary to wrap separately. Many of the reusable bags that governments and environmentalists would like consumers to switch to also do not have warnings about wrapping meat separately.
Not only do plastic bag restrictions put human health at risk, the paper bags that replace them are more harmful to the climate, according to researchers. Researchers found that paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic bags because more energy is required to produce and transport them.
Some parts of the country are already pushing back against plastic bag bans. Michigan just enacted a law banning cities and towns from imposing bans or taxes on plastic bags. Arizona, Idaho, and Missouri already have similar laws in place.