The Market Impact of Single-Use Plastic Bag Bans: Usage is Down; Costs are Up; and the Overall Environmental Benefit is Unclear

The debate over single-use plastics shows no signs of ending, and retail bags are a high profile target for environmentalists and regulators.

  • The number of local and state regulations targeting plastic bags has accelerated dramatically since 2016, with 8 statewide bans, nearly 500 local regulations, and more on the way in 2020.
  • However, not everyone is in agreement on the best way to solve the problem of single-use bags and there are now more states pre-empting plastic bans than those which have them.
  • Part of the problem is that there is little agreement on what constitutes a reusable bag

The impact of bans is immediately apparent in areas where they are enacted, although the results are not always as predicted. According to Freedonia, while single-use plastic retail bags usage will continue to decline through 2023, overall sales of retail bags in value terms will jump 4.7% per year due to a significant increase in prices. These higher costs are not popular with consumers or retailers.

More information regarding the study is here: https://www.freedoniagroup.com/industry-study/retail-bags-3786.htm

The main beneficiaries of single-use bans are paper bags and higher gauge reusable plastic bags, although newer types of natural fiber bags such as those based on hemp are also seeing growth. However, as more research on the impact of current bans is conducted, concerns are being raised about whether these alternatives truly have better overall environmental footprints than the plastic bags they are replacing. 

Want to Learn More?

The Freedonia Group’s new Retail Bags study analyzes the US retail bag market, presenting historical demand (2008, 2013, 2018) and forecasts for 2023 and 2028 for single-use and reusable bags by material (plastic, paper, natural fiber) and market (grocery, foodservice, other retail). This study also analyzes regulatory trends, provides company market share by material, and includes analysis on industry participants such as Novolex (Duro Bag and Hilex), Inteplast (Trinity), International Paper, Advance Polybag, Command Packaging, ProAmpac, Ronpak, and more.