It is true that manufacturing "lightweight plastic bags consumes about 4.5 times more energy in its manufacture than reusable green bags" (NTEPA, n.d., para. 7); however, that is only part of the picture. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, "traditional plastic bags recover the largest percentage of energy. They also leave behind the smallest amount of municipal solid waste" (Villarrea, 2012, para. 4). In contrast, paper bags produce the most waste and reusable shopping bags are not without their problems as well.
According to a University of Arizona and Loma Linda University study conducted in 2011, "only 3% of shoppers with multi-use bags said they regularly washed them. The same study found bacteria in 99% of bags tested; half carried coliform bacteria while 8% carried E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination" (Newkirk, 2014, para. 4), which can obviously be health hazard. This situation is exacerbated further when we consider that many shopping bags remain in hot cars during summer days where the bags act as an incubator for nasty bacteria left behind from raw meats.
Additionally, we have already seen the economic toll that plastic bag bans cause. A study conducted by the National Center for Policy Analysis discovered that in Los Angeles County "commerce in incorporated businesses has been dealt a significant blow in the year following the bag ban" (CAPITOL CONFIDENTIAL, 2012, para. 3). We have even seen a spike in unemployment numbers in places that have enacted plastic bag bans.
Unfortunately, recycling plastic bags right now can be troublesome, because "at some facilities, plastic bags snarl the conveyer belts" (Turk & Bensel, 2014, Ch. 9.5), but as technology progresses that may not be the case. Recycling technology is constantly improving and this circumstance may be due for a change. It's also true that plastic bags can harm animals if improperly disposed of, but that is the case with many waste products and the environmental impact of plastic bags is minimal.
If I were in charge, in order to deal with this problem I would encourage entrepreneurs to invest in new recycling technology that can help us process plastic bags better. In the meantime, I would make the case for compostable plastic bags, which I believe to be a good alternative to traditional bags. They are just as convenient for shoppers, plus they biodegrade just like food waste. However, I would not, under any circumstance, enforce a bag ban by decree. I would leave these decisions where they should be left, which is between the consumer and the business. If people don't want to use plastic bags because of concerns about the environment, then I suspect that they will not use them. Either way, I don't believe it is wise policy to interfere with the free market, especially when it will be "harmful to local economies and not environmentally justified" (CAPITOL CONFIDENTIAL, 2012, para. 11).
CAPITOL CONFIDENTIAL. (2012). Study: Plastic Bag Bans Have Harsh Economic, Environmental Impact - Breitbart. Retrieved from http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2012/08/18/new-study-details-harsh-economic-and-environmental-impact-of-plastic-bag-bans/
Newkirk, B. (2014). Eww, reusable grocery bags' germs can make you sick. Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/06/reusable-grocery-bag-germs/4341739/
NTEPA. (n.d.). Environmental Impacts. Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.ntepa.nt.gov.au/waste-pollution/plastic-bag-ban/enviroimpacts
Turk, J., & Bensel, T. (2014). Contemporary environmental issues (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Villarrea, P. (2012). A Survey on the Economic Effects of Los Angeles County's Plastic Bag Ban. Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.ncpa.org/pub/st340?pg=4