One may not initially make the connection between equity, environmental justice, and single-use bag bans. However, when drafting bag bans, it's critical to consider the impacts that the policies may have on low-income communities to address any existing or potential inequities that may arise.

The Surfrider Foundation has helped pass many of the over 500 local plastic bag laws adopted to date. Plastic bag laws help reduce plastic pollution by promoting positive behavior change (ex. going bag-free or using reusable bags) and reducing the number of single-use plastic and paper bags at the source. Bag bans can also help promote environmental justice when done thoughtfully.  Every single-use bag ban developed and implemented is an opportunity to create stronger and more inclusive policies that benefit all communities and the environment.

Duke University's Environmental Law and Policy Clinic's (Duke University) memo to Don't Waste Durham lays out this issue and provides recommendations that help minimize equity implications and promote environmental justice. All these recommendations are in alignment with what Surfrider advocates for when developing bag ban policies.

Let's start with how bag bans can impact equity and environmental justice, and what potential solutions to reduce the negative impacts might look like.

Bag fees, such as a 10-cent charge for bags, disproportionately burden low-income communities and create inequity, if unabated. Low-income households tend to spend a larger proportion of their income on basic expenses, such as food, compared to higher-income households (Johnson, 1999; Ramos & Brighton, 2000). Therefore a bag fee that would raise their overall cost of food would have a bigger impact on low-income families.

In addition, plastic bags and other single-use plastic pollution have negative health and environmental impacts on certain communities. We know that the entire lifecycle of plastic disproportionately harms low-income communities and communities of color. From fracking, oil and gas refinery, to landfills and incinerators - all these facilities associated with extraction, production, to waste management of plastics are mainly located in communities of color, followed next by low-income communities.

Read the full article about bag bans by Miho Ligare at Surfrider Foundation.