in Houston, Texas

Austin bag ban pushed with faulty numbers; author of cited report says it did not address plastic bags, ‘a minute portion of the waste stream’

Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012, 05:26PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
bags

City of Austin officials wildly inflated the volume of plastic bags in Austin’s litter stream and the cost to dispose of them, based on a misreading of a key report cited by the officials, one of the authors of the report told Texas Watchdog this afternoon.

It was unclear how the error, an extrapolation more than three-and-a-half times larger than it should have been, will affect a proposed ordinance that would make offering disposable shopping bags of plastic or paper a misdemeanor in Austin beginning in January of 2013.

The city’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission is expected to consider the ordinance at 6:30 p.m. tonight in Austin’s City Hall. Should an ordinance be approved, the City Council is expected to vote on it sometime in March.

As of 4 p.m. Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, was unable to respond to Texas Watchdog’s questions about the calculation he used in the report upon which the disposable bag ban is based. He was, however, expected to address them at the commission meeting, his spokeswoman, Lauren Hammond, said.

The reason Gedert could not make an estimate of plastic bag volume or cost in Austin based on the report he cited was the figure for plastic bag volume in the U.S. was not in the report, Steven Stein, an environmental scientist and co-author of the 2009 study of litter in the U.S., told Texas Watchdog.

The Keep America Beautiful litter study listed the top 10 sources of visible litter on American roadways. Cigarette butts were responsible for 36.3 percent of the litter. Plastic bags, at .6 percent did not make the top 10 list or the study, Stein said.

“We had, like, 60 categories, and we weren’t going to include them all,” Stein said. “Because plastic bags made up such a minute portion of the waste stream we didn’t include it.”

In his report to the City Council in January of 2011, Gedert cites Stein’s study and uses a 2.2 percent figure, which corresponds to a type of litter Stein called Other Plastic Film. This category refers to agricultural plastic like the sheeting wrapped around big round bales of hay.

“That’s the only place I can think of where he might have gotten the 2.2 percent,” Stein said.

On Tuesday, Stein sent an e-mail letter to Gedert pointing out the error.

“You have overstated the amount and cost impact of plastic bags by about 366 percent,“ Stein wrote. “Additionally, since retail plastic bags only constitute a portion of the study’s plastic bag category (dry cleaner bags and trash bags are also in this category), even 0.6 percent for retail plastic bags is an overstatement.”

“Specifically, page three of your memo indicates that plastic bags constitute 2.2 percent of litter. The 2009 National Litter Study found that plastic bags of all types comprise only 0.6 percent of litter. Percentages for categories that constituted minute portions of roadside litter, such as plastic bags, were not addressed in the 2009 National Litter Study.”

“Thus, the wrong data point was used in this memo’s analysis. The mix-up may stem from Figure 3-3 (Top 10 Aggregate Litter Items, All U.S. Roadways) on page 3-3 of the KAB 2009 National Litter Study. That table lists “Other Plastic Film” as 2.2% of all litter. Note that this category specifically excluded plastic bags.”

Stein said he has so far not heard from Gedert, before or after his letter.

“Regardless of this position you take on this issue, what is of consequence is that you dig deep enough to make sure you have the correct data to base your assumptions on,” Stein said. “I think it was an honest mistake that I would have been happy to point out to him. But I think the public in Austin ought to know about it.”
 
***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of plastic bags by flickr user taberandrew, used via a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, we'd love to hear about it. E-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

Comments
Barks in the Country
Friday, 01/20/2012 - 07:01AM

You sure his Gedert character doesn't moonlight on the 'global warming' team. Only a 366% 'mistake'.

Video
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
Abortion’s Quang Tri: Will the Right to Life Movement Shake Groupthink and Inertia? In the Vietnam War the Second Battle of Quang Tri was a pivotal moment in the war. Quang Tri was a provincial capital, and was highly...
Update:5 hours 17 min
Big Jolly Politics
Brenham Home Listing Photo of the Day: A Watched Fruit Never Boils 10005 FM 390 [HAR] … Read...
Update:10 hours 40 min
Swamplot
The 2 Houston Abortion Clinics That Would Have Survived HB2 (But No Longer Have To) Above is Rewire’s interactive map of what happened to most of the abortion clinics in Texas since the 2013 passage of  HB2, parts...
Update:11 hours 9 min
Swamplot
Good Dog Now Occasionally Sitting, Prepping to Stay on W. Alabama The second non-mobile location of Good Dog  is now hiring, per the signage spotted by a reader at 1312 W. Alabama St. The food...
Update:15 hours 24 min
Swamplot
2016 Houston Press Club Lone Star Awards winners And the 2016 Lone Star Awards winners are... The Houston Press Club Lone Star Awards banquet was held at Rice University’s Grand Hall...
Update:15 hours 26 min
Mike McGuff
County Wants To Fill In the Astrodome’s Flood Levels with Parking There are still no set plans for what will eventually happen to the Astrodome, but the county is already gearing up to work on...
Update:16 hours 24 min
Swamplot
Sky-High Shots of Marlowe’s Spot in the Dirt by the Dirt Bar Downtown An elevated reader sends a snapshot this morning of an excavator rooting around by 1311 Polk St., where Randall Davis is laying the...
Update:17 hours 10 min
Swamplot
VIDEO: Best TV News Bloopers, Interviews, Fails 2016 ...
Update:18 hours 16 min
Mike McGuff
New White Paper on pretrial release and bail reform in Texas Under my (Michele Deitch's) supervision, graduate students at the LBJ School of Public Affairs wrote a series of policy briefs in response...
Update:18 hours 57 min
Grits for Breakfast
Inside Phillips 66’s New HQ; New Timeline for Grand Texas Racing Track Houston’s Downtown Trophy Towers Performing Strongest in Class A Market, JLL Report Finds [HBJ] First Look Inside Phillips...
Update:20 hours 9 min
Swamplot
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 4 years 1 week
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 4 years 1 week
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 4 years 1 week
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 4 years 1 week
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 4 years 1 week
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 4 years 1 week
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 4 years 1 week
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 4 years 1 week
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
© 2016 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement