The Unintended Consequences of Plastic Bag Bans: An Armful of Designer Clothes and Ecoli

Recently, I was visiting with my sister and her family who told me of San Louis Obispo County's "plastic bag ban".  I had heard of other counties and cities implementing such bans but always assumed that these bans only applied to plastic grocery bags and not any other vendors.  To my surprise, the SLO County ban applied to virtually all types of plastic bags provided by retailers to customers in which to carry purchased items.  So not only did it apply to grocery stores, but it also applied to clothing stores.  Of course, while most people had gotten used to bringing their own cloth tote bags into grocery stores--they were not accustomed to carrying their own bags into other stores.

My sister hilariously told me how shortly after the ban was implemented they visited a large mall.  Hundreds of mall shoppers were walking around the mall with their arms full clothes and other items because they did not bring their own cloth tote bags.  It looked like the shoppers had ransacked and looted the place, walking off with as much as they could carry. 

This unintended consequence, however, is a mere inconvenience when compared to the health concerns. As reason magazine points out, a recent study by my Alma Mater shows that in jurisdictions where plastic bags were banned, ER visits increased by about 25% compared with neighboring counties where the bags remained legal.  Essentially, people were carrying leaky packages of meat and other foods in their canvas tote bags, then wadding up the bags in the trunk of their cars for awhile, leaving bacteria to grow until the next trip, when they would fill the contaminated bags with fruit and vegetables.