Statement by Risk Analysis Division Director Jeff Stier on Chicago’s Decision to Ban Plastic Shopping Bags

New York, NY / Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement by Risk Analysis Division Director Jeff Stier on the vote by Chicago’s City Council today to ban the use of plastic shopping bags by large supermarkets, chain stores and franchises like 7-Eleven:

The partial ban on plastic bags in Chicago won’t just hurt businesses, it could harm public health.

The two main alternatives to convenient plastic bags are paper and canvas. Each come with their own troubling risks.

Entymologists, such as Coby Schal of North Carolina State University, have observed that cockroaches prefer paper to plastic. “They really like to live in the creases found in paper bags,” he says. Many cockroach species chew into paper bags to lay their eggs – something they don’t do with plastic.

This is a problem beyond just the yuck factor. Darryl Zeldin, a senior scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, says: “Cockroaches significantly increase asthma symptoms in allergic individuals. And while a third of inner-city residents are cockroach-sensitive, sensitivity to cockroach exposure is widespread in our nation – not just in the inner cities.”

I doubt Chicago lawmakers considered the cockroach problem when they deliberated a ban on plastic bags.

Canvas bags are not necessarily a better option. Rarely washed, the bags are excellent hosts for bugs much smaller than cockroaches: bacteria. That bacteria can spread disease. Think back: when is the last time you disinfected a re-usable canvas bag?

Almost everyone keeps a stash of plastic bags. We reuse them to line garbage cans, bring lunch to work and to store other plastic bags. I use them daily to clean up after my dog – try doing that with paper!

Stier has written and commented extensively on plastic bag bans, including his commentary published in the New York Post.

New York City-based Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division. Stier is a frequent guest on CNBC, and has addressed health policy on CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC as well as network newscasts. Stier’s National Center op-eds have been published in top outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Newsday, Forbes, the Washington Examiner and National Review Online. He also frequently discusses risk issues on Twitter at @JeffaStier.

Stier has testified at FDA scientific meetings, met with members of Congress and their staff about science policy, met with OMB/OIRA officials, and has submitted testimony to state government legislative hearings. Most recently, he testified before the science committee of the New York City Council about e-cigarettes and submitted testimony to the Oklahoma and Rhode Island legislatures on the same matter.

Stier previously worked in both the office of the mayor and in the corporation counsel’s office during the Giuliani administration in New York City. His responsibilities included planning environmental agency programs, legal analysis of proposed legislation, and health policy. Mr. Stier also is chairman of the board of the Jewish International Connection, NY. While earning his law degree at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, he served two terms as editor-in-chief of the Cardozo Law Forum.

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, three percent from foundations, and three percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors.

Contributions are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated.


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.