In coastal California, where I live, various cities have weekly publications that are distributed at a zero price, have a cutting-edge, vaguely (sometimes explicitly) leftist slant, and almost always are uncritically “environmentalist.” They rarely take on any policy that most leftist environmentalists favor.

Which makes this article all the more amazing. Written by staffer Joe Eskenazi, it gives chapter and verse on the effects of San Francisco’s city government ban on plastic bags. Three great grafs:

The argument that biodegradability is paper bags’ saving grace is extremely problematic. Firstly, biodegrading paper represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, in a properly run landfill, paper doesn’t really biodegrade. In fact, nothing much really does.

Professor William Rathje, currently on leave from Stanford’s archaeology department, has excavated 21 landfills in the United States and Canada. Among other things, he’s discovered that we greatly overstate the amount of vegetables we eat while heavily understating the amount of alcohol we drink. But he has also pulled “mummified,” readable newspapers of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” era out of landfills, along with intact vegetables, hot dogs, and paper sacks sturdy enough to tote them in. Digging through the dirt, Rathje has found that while Americans are using more and more plastic goods, they occupy less and less volume in our landfills due to “lightweighting.” Between 1976 and 1992, plastic grocery bags’ thickness was reduced by half; today, they are thinner still. While paper products now often incorporate more recycled content, they haven’t grown thinner — if anything, it’s the opposite. So even if, as the city’s Department of the Environment claims, half of San Francisco’s paper grocery bags are recycled, that still means millions are going into landfill, where they occupy scads more space than the plastic bags they replaced — and will, for a long time.

“Plastic bags, especially in landfills, take up so much less volume than paper bags,” Rathje says. “If you’re worried about the amount of space in landfills taken up by plastic bags — don’t.”

HT to Jeff Hummel