August 29 2014
Bags Be Gone
Patrice J. Lee
Plastic bags may be on their way out of California thanks to the nation’s first state-wide ban making its way through the state legislature.
A majority of the California Assembly voted to approve a bill that bans single-use plastic bags. The bill now heads to the Senate where it must be approved by Sunday.
The aim of the bill is to reduce the buildup of plastic waste in oceans and waterways that cost millions of dollars to clean up. We’ve heard that before. And the bill would also authorize retailers to charge a dime for paper and reusable bags.
Opponents claim this unfairly punishes customers and will cost 2,000 manufacturing jobs in the state.
Cities across California and around the country have imposed similar measures for quite some time, but this law would bring all cities and counties under the same hardship. A resident can no longer escape the pain from one grocery by taking their dollars to grocers in another locale.
USA Today reports:
Republican Assem. Tim Donnelly voted against the bill, arguing that the ban is an attack on personal freedom and that it will create an enforcement burden.
But one of the bill's co-author's insists the ban will not only help the environment, but help the economy by developing an industry around reusable bags made of recycled plastic.
"This is going to be very big for California because now there's emerging companies that are now pulling agricultural plastic, millions of pounds that are right now going to the landfill, there's an incentive in this bill to now clean that plastic, put it back to use, and recycle it," Democratic Assem. Luis Alejo said.
The ban of plastic bags is bad. The tax imposed for using other bags is worse. But there are still other issues.
As several cities in California have learned there are expensive unintended consequences of banning plastic bags and charging a dime for every paper bag. The biggest being a rise in incidence of shoplifting as customers will place items in their reusable bags and then upon check-out only pay for some of the items they take claiming they purchased the other items elsewhere.
Reports are starting to roll in from stores about the rise in crime and their inability to do much about it. As CBNC reports, the Neighborhood Market Association, a group of 2,400 small markets in the West, has received hundreds of phone calls from members saying that shoplifting has increased in their markets since the ban began.
The crime isn’t limited to just to California cities either. One in five Seattle grocery store owners surveyed recently by Washington state believe the plastic bag ban has created at least a small shoplifting problem.
Once again, we see unintended consequences of policies. Politicians and proponents of bans on plastic bags have used an environmental argument. By banning the bags or even charging small fees for their usage, they think they can change consumer behavior, minimize pollution (bags in water ways and trees), and generate revenue that can be used to clean up polluted areas.
However, as consumer we never find out how much pollution has been reduced nor do we learn how the funding raised is actually allocated.
California is often a bellwether and other states that promote progressive policies take their cues from their West Coast sibling. Don’t be surprised to see similar state-wide bans pop up in New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., where local bans and regulations are in place.