Plastic bags may actually have one thing going for them.
Sure, they fill landfills and accumulate into giant plastic islands in the ocean. That's why New York became the second state to ban them altogether last month. But a recent study shows that a similar ban in California actually ended up pushing plastic waste higher — and that the alternatives to plastic may not be so great either, NPR reports.
After California's cities and counties banned plastic bags ahead of a statewide ban in 2016, University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor found they did reduce 40 million pounds of plastic waste every year. Yet in the months after the statewide ban began, Taylor's study also found that purchases of small, four-gallon plastic garbage bags — which use more plastic than single-use options — more than doubled. That's likely because people needed something to replace the plastic shopping bags they once reused to pick up dog poop or line small garbage cans around their house, NPR says.
In another blow to the environmentally conscious, NPR also compiled several studies that show paper bags are worse for the planet than plastic. Sure, they can be recycled and reused, but a ton of water, chemicals, and fuel are used to produce them. Even worse, one study from the Danish government found you'd have to use an organic cloth bag 20,000 times for it to be a better environmental choice than plastic. So to be the best tree hugger you can, use a reusable polyester or plastic bag over and over, the Danish study recommends. Read more about the unintended consequences of bag bans at NPR.