Bag It Up: Why the Dallas City Council Should Say No to Banning Plastic Bags

There's a simpler solution to this overblown "problem": Tell your constituents not to litter.


At the grocery store the other day, I remember being impressed by how many things the clerk was able to stuff into a single plastic bag. Carrying it out, I marveled at the little bag’s strength and resilience.

Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway, chair of the council’s Quality of Life & Environment Committee, isn’t nearly so impressed. In fact, because a few local residents can’t or don’t want to dispose of their single-use plastic bags like everyone else, the councilor wants to ban the bags outright.

That’s a silly, knee-jerk “solution” to an exaggerated problem. And it deserves to be treated as such when the full council votes as expected on the issue this month.

Outlawing plastic bags is a trendy cause with green activists stretching from Austin to Portland to San Francisco. They argue that these bags are a blight that use too much oil to make, kill wildlife, and pollute the landscape. But, as with many efforts by do-gooder social engineers to take away your free choice—see ex-New York Mayor Mike “No Big Sodas” Bloomberg—their pious claims are misguided or even bogus.

According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, plastic bags account for less than 0.5 percent of the municipal waste stream. In other words, the “blight” factor is insignificant.

Charges about bags destroying large numbers of marine mammals are similarly overblown. In fact, according to The Times of London, a landmark study found that plastic bags do not figure in most deaths where creatures are caught up in marine debris.

Moreover, plastic bags require less energy to produce than, say, paper bags. University of Oregon professor David Tyler, who has studied the issue, says, “If the most important environmental impact you wanted to alleviate was global warming, then you would go with plastic.”

Instead of acting like enforcers for some Lone Star-style Nanny State, city council members like Caraway should urge their constituents to consider this novel idea: Don’t litter. But that probably makes too much sense.


  • James the P3

    As an aside, I wholly support the adoption of “councilor” as the appropriate title for a person who sits on the City Council. Not only is it shorter than the cumbersome “councilman”/”councilwoman”/”councilperson,” but it also avoids those tricky gender issues that go along with the latter style.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, just don’t litter. Why didn’t we think of that?

    I agree there are issues to resolve with this. My #1 care-about, if plastic bags are outlawed, is what will I use to pick up dog poo. But to call the blight factor insignificant? Have you been outside? Like, recently? It’s awful in our greenbelts, creeks, etc. And because a plastic bag weighs next to nothing, citing statistics saying “heck, it’s only 0.5% of our total municipal waste stream, so why are we even talking about it?” is ludicrous.

  • Greg Brown

    Was this written by a 4th-grader?

  • Greg Brown

    Was this written by a 4th-grader? “Knee-jerk,” “Nanny State,” “do-gooder.” Couldn’t you fit “poopy pants” in there somewhere?

  • Ted

    Why don’t we start by banning those throwaway Briefings littering lawns and streets like dead, sun-bleached fish and work our way up?

    • GlennTheHunter

      In its Sunday editorial supporting a ban, the Dallas Morning News specifically advocated exempting the plastic bags that its newspapers come wrapped in, Ted. So I don’t think you’re going to have much luck with Briefings.

  • Brett Moore

    I feel like this was written by Steve Blow.

  • mwm

    The Star-Telegram can throw a paper in my yard every Thursday for years and its cool, but I throw my kitchen remodeling debris in their parking garage once, and its criminal.

  • Avid Reader

    Seriously. Should be less fly-over territory terminology; maybe could have included “denier”, “common-good”, “substandard bag” or “change”.

  • GlennTheHunter

    No, Greg, but I did forget to add “pointy-headed intellectuals who can’t park their bicycles straight.”

  • Brett Moore

    When FrontBurner posters like Tim, Zac and Jason post items which contain references to outside studies, they link to said studies in their posts. Why don’t you, Glenn?

  • Ted

    I’d just like to see someone (hey, you’re a writer, maybe you could do it) paint a picture of what Walmart would look like about 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon just after payday without plastic bags. How many linen totes would one of their carousels hold?

    Seriously. Ban plastic bags (not just tax them a nickel, that’s fudging). Okay, done.

    Now what? Back to paper? Or the mom with 3 kids in tow and a cart and a half of groceries has what looks like a luggage store piled up over your groceries waiting to be filled? What? What really happens?

    Dwayne Caraway can’t just be a little pixie princess, wave a sparkly wand, turn his back, and walk away. What does bulk consumer in line buying look like after the revolution?

  • Dan Koller

    In case you missed it, Morning News editorial writer Mike Hashimoto recently pointed out that plastic bags seem to be a litter problem only in certain parts of town [puts match to fire … backs away slowly]:

    • Michael Mason

      Yeah, I saw that. Hashimoto’s position seemed to be that it’s silly to ban plastic bags in Dallas, because they don’t seem to be causing any problems in Lewisville.

      I’m telling everyone: these damn bags go into the streams, and they catch in the trees. Go to the White Rock Lake area, and take a look. Pay no attention to the Native American on the bank, shedding a tear.

      And yes, the typical Wal-Mart shopper would have to make adjustments, instead of just using 37 plastic bags. But I’m thinking maybe they could attach a small trailer to their mobility scooters. We need to think out of the box, people.

    • Peter Kurilecz

      or is it progressive racism at work

      Progressive position:
      Prohibit businesses from giving plastic bags to customers.

      False public rationale offered by progressives to justify their position:
      Discarded plastic bags harm the environment and befoul the landscape; we should be kind to the Earth by using cloth or paper bags instead.

      Conservatives’ inaccurate theory of progressives’ real intent:
      Leftists have an illogical phobia about plastic, because to them it symbolizes artificiality and consumerism; they’re trying to outlaw an extremely useful invention simply to make shopping and capitalism more inconvenient.

      The actual racist origins of the progressive stance:
      White progressives specifically want to stop inner-city blacks from littering, but don’t want to be perceived as racists who further penalize the black community for its behavior, so rather than focus on whom they believe to be the actual perpetrators of littering, they remove from everyone‘s hands any objects which might potentially become litter.

  • Jackson

    Johnny Cash championed the rights of the incarcerated. Willie Nelson stood up for the family farmer. Jimmy Carter built houses for the poor. And you, Glenn Hunter? Advocating for plastic bags. You know, back where I come from there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phil….er – er – phil – er – good-deed-doers. But they have one thing you haven’t got, Glenn Hunter: a testimonial! Consider that oversight now remedied. You know how to pick your battles, my man.

    • JFPO

      Don’t get him started on light bulbs. The TYRANNY!

  • Paul

    Glenn is right. The city council should focus it’s attention on crime reduction, street improvements, etc. and stop wasting time on the issue of paper or plastic. Personally, I kind of like plastic bags.

  • Ted

    See, this is one of those issues that’s so facile to command in writing, and then walk away. So all of the Walmarts being affected rip out their plastic bag carousels.

    Then what? Paper bags don’t dispense like plastic ones do. You’ll need baggers. Longer checkout times. Or maybe just close the stores. Far easier to relocate just over the plastic bag border. Then what happens to those who smuggle them home into The Caraway Zone?

    Andt we’re not talking just one Walmart stereotype on his mobility scooter, we’re talking about the 27-year-old Hispanic moms trying to control 3 kids and the week’s groceries, and not just at Walmart, at Terry’s, and Fiesta, and Kroger, Etc..

    “You’ll just have to make adjustments, dear. Have you considered equipping your children as pack burros to carry the virgin linen totes in and out?”

  • Peter Kurilecz

    “… Caraway should urge their constituents to consider this novel idea: Don’t litter. But that probably makes too much sense.”

    finally someone speaks the truth

  • Peter Kurilecz

    oh good grief every other language in the world distinguishes between male and female while we people bending over backwards not to offend. I always get a laugh when someone says councilperson jane jones, or chairperson sally smith.

  • Wylie H Dallas

    Agree we need a change in nomenclature; I propose the title of “Guvnah.”

  • Wylie H Dallas

    They should also wear sashes and powdered wigs.

  • Tim Rogers

    Glenn, you remain my favorite FrontBurner troll. But if you’d like, come take a paddle with me on the north end of White Rock Lake. Or down the Trinity. The bags are a problem. Ditching them seems like a good idea.

  • thufir_hawat

    Because data is the plural of anecdote? Because “seems like a good idea” is a substitute for argument?

    Frontburner webmaster: please let Tim know that some non-critical thinker has appropriated his login and pic and is posting parodies.

  • Ted

    “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear your son was arrested at school for possession. What for?”

    “Six marijuana cigarettes and two plastic grocery bags.”

    “But plastic grocery bags are illegal in Dallas!”

    “I know. He says he got them from some man in Seagoville.”

  • Michael Mason

    One anecdote and “seems like a good idea” is more than Glenn provided.

    Mostly I liked Tim’s post because it agrees with mine.

  • Journo

    Similarly, The Times of London is not an appropriate source for the topic you’re writing about. Glenn should have taken the time to find that “landmark study” they cited. Do your due diligence.

  • tweetspeare1

    Glenn, I have to give you credit for at least citing studies that support your argument, but you throw your credibility out the window, at high speed, when you suggest that “a few local residents can’t or don’t want to throw away their single-use bags,” as if people willfully toss the bags in the air when they want to get rid of them. Truth is, people DO throw the bags away, into their dumpsters haphazardly, and somewhere along the way the wind catches them. The bags end up stuck on the ground until rain washes them all downstream into our rivers, and ultimately our water supply.

    Also, if you’re attempting to persuade anyone but yourself that the ban is a bad idea, I would steer clear of conservative platitudes such as, “social engineers,” and, “Nanny-state,” especially considering that Dallas is a blue city, and most of us see right through those hollow talking points. Working to make our communities better places isn’t “social engineering” anymore than your preacher admonishing you not to drink.

    What harm will come of the ban? Absolutely nothing. People will either bring their reusable bags to the supermarket, or they will simply use renewable paper bags that don’t last 1,000 years. Nevermind trivialities such as energy costs of producing bags, and “trendy causes” espoused by “green activists,” it’s just a good idea that’s easily enforceable and, this one’s for you brilliant Norquist-ians: it’s cheap to enact! So let’s drop the rhetoric and do something.