Cities Should Not Charge For Disposable Shopping Bags


New York's City Council has failed to vote on a bill which would have ostensibly reduced plastic bag waste, even though the bill's sponsor, Brooklyn Democrat Brad Lander, appeared to have enough support to pass the measure.

The bill, entitled the "Carryout Bag Reduction" bill, would require supermarkets and most other stores to charge shoppers five cents for disposable bags, according to Crain's New York.  Lander, with a group of co-sponsors for the bill, says that bag fees are the fairest and most effective way to get customers to cut down on the use of plastic and to bring reusable bags.

These fees are ultimately more costly and far more difficult to enforce than one may think, and it is worth questioning whether or not a bill such as this is really worth fighting for.

For one, all sorts of carve-outs exist in this bill which would continue to allow plastic bags to be used in various contexts.  Purchases made with food stamps or WIC will not be subject to the 5 cent charge, while plastic bags for restaurant food and pharmacy prescriptions will continue to be free.  Also, retailers would not be required to keep track of these fees, Crain's reports.

There are other negatives to the fees as well.  One feature of such fees discussed in the Corvallis Gazette-Times is that they can actually become dangerous, as germs and bacteria stay in the bag and the bags' users are typically not cleaning them prior to when they go grocery shopping.

Even so, some plastic bags themselves can be reused.  Indeed, many supermarket shoppers who hold onto plastic bags from the store can use them in different contexts, such as trash disposal.

The fees will also inconvenience business owners throughout New York, as many store owners obtain plastic bags up to two to three years in advance of actually using them.  And it's not clear that the main alternative to plastic -- paper -- is actually any better for the environment over the long-term.  Roughly 15,100 barrels of oil are used to produce and transport 100 million paper bags.

There is certainly something to be said about the environmental risks of having too much plastic circulating around the Earth.  But plastic bags are just a dip in the bucket compared to things like the amount of packaging companies use, along with the waste generated by paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons each year.

If implemented, this ban will affect most those citizens who are lower-income -- but not receiving food stamps or WIC -- and who often cannot spare the extra income, even if it is only five or 10 cents.  But there is also no enforcement mechanism, which means that this is the type of law which people will be inclined to ignore as they go about their daily activities.

The bill will likely be voted on during a council meeting on May 5.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Crain's New York, Corvallis Gazette-Times / Photo credit: Sun Sentinel

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