A new report from the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests the plastic bag ban could actually be aiding the increase of greenhouse gas ethane.
Researchers say after a steady decline in ethane from its peak in 1970 — which was attributed to better emission controls — they have seen an increase in ethane in the Northern Hemisphere of about 400,000 tons annually between 2009-2014.
“About 60 percent of the drop we saw in ethane levels over the past 40 years has already been made up in the past five years,” said one of the authors of the study, Detlev Helmig,
Part of the process of making a plastic bag requires ethane to be taken out of the mix, as ethane is too volatile to be safely used. Without ethane being used for plastic bag production, oil and gas companies are forced to burn the ethane off into the atmosphere.
Data taken from 30,000 air flasks (literally just bottles filled with outside air) gives evidence that ethane levels are rising. While the researchers largely attribute that to the oil and gas boom in America, the bag ban could be unintentionally exacerbating the increase.