Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A new article on bag bans

Today's New York Times features an article on various bag ban efforts in the U.S. Here are my thoughts on some excepts:

SEATTLE — Last summer, city officials here became the first in the nation to approve a fee on paper and plastic shopping bags in many retail stores. The 20-cent charge was intended to reduce pollution by encouraging reusable bags.

Voters in Seattle will decide in August whether to accept a 20-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, like these carried by Shannon Blackley, in many retail stores.

But a petition drive financed by the plastic-bag industry delayed the plan. Now a far broader segment of Seattle’s bag carriers — its voters — will decide the matter in an election in August.

Even in a city that likes to be environmentally conscious, the outcome is uncertain.

20 cents?
That is a hefty fee! I can completely see why the outcome of the vote is uncertain. I would be tempted to vote against it. Why did they settle on 20 cents and not a nickel, like bans being considered in other states?
In Connecticut, a bill that would put a 5-cent fee on most paper and plastic bags is being promoted as potentially raising as much as $10 million a year for the depleted budget of the Environmental Protection Department.

“We’re not just exploring how can we get more money out of this,” said State Representative Kim Fawcett, a Fairfield Democrat who is sponsoring the bill. “We’re asking, ‘How can we help people change their behavior?’ ”

Taxing and levying fines on those who can least afford it rubs me the wrong way. But making the fee optional if one but changes behaviors takes the sting out of it, as does making that fee smaller (even well meaning shoppers will forget at first, and I'm sure a 5-cent fee would annoy, but a 20-cent fee would enrage-- you know?). Ultimately, I think the goal of removing a portion of plastic pollution is worth the effort, and so much the better if moneys collected from the fees can be used for environmental clean-up.

My favorite part of NYC's current bag recycling law is the requirement for stores to not only offer recycling containers, but to provide re-usable bags for sale-- the reason we see so many re-usable shopping bags with store logos on them now is a direct result of the law. Stores didn't all start selling them at once out of a desire to be green! They did it because they had to. That part of the law is intended to change people's behavior-- and it is working.
Over the last year, bag makers have increased their marketing efforts, saying that their product has been unfairly maligned and that they will do more to reduce waste through recycling.

I will believe that when I see it. I am highly doubtful. Recycling all that plastic is bound to be more expensive than manufacturing new plastic. Of course I don't know that as a certainty, but come ON.
In the Manhattan Beach case, a Superior Court judge ruled on Friday in favor of bag makers, saying the city should have determined whether a ban on plastic bags would have caused environmental damage by increasing the use of paper bags.

What about comparing plastic bags to re-usable bags? Was that even mentioned?
“The important thing to understand from the perspective of this industry is that there’s not a single manufactured product on earth that has no environmental profile,” Mr. Joseph said.

Mr. Joseph has a point. But I have to think that a reusable bag has a better environmental profile than a plastic one-time-use bag.
“For some reason,” he continued, “the great microscope of the environmental community has decided on the plastic-bag issue and decided, O.K., it’s going to be our symbol.”

Yep. And with any luck, plastic bottles will be next.

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