While many cities have enacted plastic bag laws that have effectively reduced the number of single-use plastic bags, laws for paper bags are significantly less common.
That said, they’re not unheard of. As of last May, it became illegal for “big box stores and grocery stores at or larger than 2,500 square feet” to hand out or sell paper bags in the state of New Jersey. Washington state allows stores to provide paper bags, so long as customers are charged a fee of 8 cents for large paper bags.
The reason for bans like these is two-fold. First, legislatures want to encourage shoppers to opt for products that can be used over and over again, not single-use products like many plastic and paper bags. As the city of Edmonton in Canada put it on the website outlining its new plastic and paper bag law, “The goal is to reduce single-use items, not to switch from plastic items to non-plastic items.”
Second, paper bags are not exactly great for the environment. As an article in Stanford Magazine explained, “It takes three reuses of a paper bag to neutralize its environmental impact, relative to plastic. … Manufacturing a paper bag requires about four times as much water as a plastic bag. Additionally, the fertilizers and other chemicals used in tree farming and paper manufacturing contribute to acid rain and eutrophication of waterways at higher rates.”
While some are excited about these bans and restrictions, others are concerned by their rollouts, such as Edmonton resident and TikToker Hien Pham (@heyitspham).
In a video with over 62,000 views, Pham lays out her issues with the city’s new law, which is prompting at least one McDonald’s in the area to charge customers 15 cents should they say yes to a bag.
@heyitspham I will always say yes to a bag because it makes it easier for all parties invloved #yeg #edmonton #yegliving ♬ original sound – Hien Pham 🦋
“Imagine, during peak hours, you’re handing individual items to the customer through the frickin’ window,” she says of customers who opt not to buy a paper bag. “And how are they keeping it sanitary?”
She questions where laws like these will end, questioning whether customers at some point will be required to bring their own cups. Pham further voices concern for workers who may have to deal with irate customers thanks to this law.
“I hope no one is giving you any sh*t about this new bylaw, because I would lose my mind,” she states.
“My degree is in environmental science so I’m all for doing our part to help the planet but this doesn’t seem fully thought out,” Pham added in a comment.
She’s not the only one to note issues like these. Earlier in the month, another TikTok user claimed she would not be paying for a bag in the future, saying that employees would have to hand her items individually in a manner similar to what was described by Pham. An additional TikToker had their drive-thru order delivered on a tray to avoid the fee.
In the comments under Pham’s video, users noted their own concerns.
“Why am I as a customer paying for a company’s consumption of paperbags?” one user asked. “They said take the bill since they make the profit and should be responsible.” As mentioned above, the laws are intended to change consumer behavior, not company behavior.
“But the cups are plastic,” another observed.
“Aren’t the paper bags recyclable at least? it already seems like the better option, kinda wack to charge for em now,” a third offered.
“It would be a slay if the company donated all of that money to climate efforts,” a further TikToker suggested. “Otherwise they’re just profiting off of single use stuff.”
The Daily Dot reached out to McDonald’s Canada and Pham via email.