Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Plastic Bag Fees

Last year, New York City passed a law that will impose a 5 cent fee on each plastic bag given to a customer, with the rationale of encouraging greater use of reusable bags and reducing plastic bag pollution in the City.  However, the New York State Senate passed a bill to prevent the City law from taking effect.  That bill is now on Governor Andrew Cuomo's desk.  It remains to be seen if he will sign the bill into law or veto it.

There are a myriad of reasons for trying to discourage the use of single use plastic bags.  They litter our roadsides, they clog storm drains, they kill marine life that accidentally ingest them, among others.  They are so cheap and worthless, that it has been my personal experience that register clerks will often attempt to put even the one small item that I purchase into a bag if I don't stop them fast enough.

Of course, there are arguments against proposals to either tax or ban plastic bags.  This article provides a balanced look at both sides of the issue. The one I hear most often is that it punishes the poor, who can't afford to shell out the nickel per bag fee.  To be honest, I am not impressed by this argument at all.  Given how freely plastic bags have been given away for years, it is easy for just about anyone to accumulate a surplus of plastic bags.  It doesn't make much effort to keep a couple of them rolled up in a pocket book, jacket pocket or in one's car to have handy when making a run to the store. 

The cynic in me believes that much of this concern for the poor is meant to mask the real reason to oppose laws to reduce plastic bag use, which is to protect the profitability of the companies that make the plastic bags. 

Still, it would be helpful if stores could provide positive incentives for customers to use reusable bags.  My local Shoprite used to credit its customers a nickel for every reusable bag used when shopping.  Having eight of them myself, I used to save 40 cents every time I did my weekly grocery shopping there.  However, for some reason, Shoprite did away with the credit.  I am guessing that as time went by and they crunched the numbers, it wasn't financially beneficial for them to continue with the program.  I might contact them to ask why.

Another positive incentive that a grocery or supermarket can provide is to allow customers who use reusable bags to bag their groceries to enter a raffle to win a gift card.  I am happy to report that Trader Joe's has such a raffle.  Since they have implemented it, I have won a $25 gift card three times.  In other words, I gained $75 for using reusable bags at Trader Joe's. 

Stores could also try out ideas such as providing free reusable bags to customers who purchase goods over a certain amount of money.

Ultimately, what matters most is do plastic bag fees or bans make a difference in our environment.  According to this article in The New York Times about a plastic bag tax that was implemented in Ireland, it does.

1 comment:

Jack Vance said...

I like the approach you mentioned where customers receive $0.05 back for each reusable bag they use. I recall some stores doing that back in the day, but I am not aware of any that still do. I imagine they decided they would prefer to keep more of our money. Anyway, I always thought that was a good idea.