As part of its (taxpayer-funded) campaign to ban plastic bags, the staff at Thurston County Solid Waste released a new report called “Reducing Our Use: Plastic Shopping Bags,” that purports to provide the science of the impact of plastic bags. The report, however, includes claims that have been called false by the nation’s leading science organizations. Other claims simply ignore key data to reach the politically desired conclusion.

In addition to producing a scientifically inaccurate document, Thurston County taxpayers are also funding town meetings to show a film selected by an environmental group and engage in activities that are strictly limited for such nonprofits.

Two errors (among many) stand out.

The report claims “The Marine Research Foundation estimates that 100,000 marine mammals die each year because of plastic litter in the North Pacific Ocean.” Scientists at NOAA say this is an unsupportable claim. On its Marine Plastics web page, the federal agency says bluntly “there are no published studies” that make this claim. The only study that is even close, NOAA reports, is 30 years old and “does not state that marine mammals are dying from plastic pieces, but rather that mortality is caused by entanglement from lost fishing gear and other unknown causes.” In other words, the only study that makes a claim like this has nothing to do with plastic bags or even plastic pieces.

In the section of “Use of Resources,” the authors of the Thurston County report ignore one of the most important resources: energy. The discussion instead focuses only on the rate of recycling of plastic and paper bags.

The report notes “the recycling rate is extremely low” for plastic bags, while “Paper bags are quite often made with recycled content.” They intentionally ignore two key facts. First, plastic bags are not recycled because they are re-used. More than half of plastic grocery bags are reused as garbage bags or for pet waste. Very few paper bags, by way of contrast, are reused. When you add reuse to recycling, the overall rate is similar.

Additionally, paper bags use more energy to produce. If energy is included, then paper bags look much worse as alternatives. By ignoring energy and reuse in its discussion of “Use of Resources,” Thurston County hides important environmental data that would undermine its desired political goal.

In addition to these errors, Thurston County Solid Waste officials are organizing community events showing a movie called “Bag It – Is Your Life too Plastic.” Where did they get the idea to choose this particular film? We asked them. They admitted:

“This was one we had been introduced to by Environment Washington.”

Thurston County staff is using taxpayer funds to do what a left-wing, non-profit environmental group, with strict limits on legislative advocacy and a budget, might not do itself. Additionally, the web page for the Thurston County campaign includes a link to “The Story of Stuff,” by left-wing activist Annie Leonard who the left-leaning Sightline Institute once called “Just colossally ignorant.”

It seems inappropriate for Thurston County staff to use taxpayer funds to fund community meetings and political organizing in support of a cause and an environmental group that some residents oppose. Rather than receiving legislative approval, Thurston County Solid Waste activists are using taxpayer funding to lobby for a change in the law. That seems to put the wishes of government staff ahead of the people’s elected representatives.

At the very least, Thurston County Solid Waste should be more honest and accurate about the policies it advocates.


[Reposted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured image used under Creative Commons license, credit: ]