Lawmaker’s plastic bag fee doesn’t go far enough

The often-forward thinking Pennsylvania State Sen. Daylin Leach recently wrote a co-sponsorship memo regarding a bill which would add a fee onto plastic bags in Pennsylvania. The fee—2 cents per bag at checkout counters—is meant to encourage commonwealth residents to get their own reusable bags. Though if they choose to pay the 2 cents, one of those cents would go to a state recycling program, the other would go to the retailer to help with their own recycling.

It’s an idea, sure, but as long as we’re putting a fee on bags, why not go all out?

Leach’s proposal (his second in as many legislative sessions) is similar to lots of others that’ve been put forth in cities and states all over the country (all bill’s of which are higher than 2 cents). In fact, last summer, Philly Green Blog proposed—and City Councilman Jim Kenney endorsed—an idea to ban plastic bags in the city entirely. That might be good news for the area under the Girard El stop, but it could lead to problems elsewhere. What I wrote at the time (and received some crazy-mad emails for) was that banning plastic bags entirely could lead to less people cleaning up their dog’s shit on the streets, which would lead to additional bacteria in the Delaware River, and other problems. The Philadelphia Water Department has put out PSAs regarding cleaning up your dog’s waste for this very reason.

So, a complete ban should be out of the question. But plastic bags, when used improperly after a purchase, can be pretty bad for the environment, too. They often end up in waterways, and for the most part, don’t biodegrade very quickly.

A fee is probably a good idea, as there are already spots in the city that charge for plastic bags, but it’s hard to imagine 2 cents is really enough to sway people into recycling rehabilitation. Especially after the initial shock of the fee wears off.

Other places, like Washington, D.C., have imposed a 5-cent fee and, according to Michael Bolinder of Anacostia Riverkeeper, there was an initial drop in plastic bags found in the Potomac River after the ban. As he told NPR last year, “We’ve seen a pretty huge reduction in bags. We can measure that two ways. One we can look at consumer use. It was about 22 and a half million bags per month in 2009. In January 2010, that dropped to three million.”

That’s good.

And according to a study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, bag consumption dropped by 67 percent over the first two years of D.C.’s ban. That’s good, too.

Except: The Capitol’s tax will likely suffer a “rebound effect” by 2016, the Institute estimates, in which bag consumption would rise by 57 percent. To restore that 67 percent decrease, the study estimates, “the Bag Tax would need to rise by 27% to 6.3 cents per bag; to reduce bag consumption by 80% of the pretax level, the tax would need to increase by 45% to 7.25-cents; and to reduce bag consumption by 90% the tax would need to increase by 60% to 7.99-cents.”

The short of which is: To make sure this plan is making a difference, the state has got to be in a state of constant revolution on the bag front—just like Mao taught!

And to make matters weirder, the plastic bag ban can have a butterfly effect on the economy if this state of constant revolution is not realized.

Also according to the Suffolk study,

A rebound in bag use by Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 will cost D.C. residents $5.73 million and lead to greater losses for the D.C. economy. Employment losses will rise to 136 net local jobs from 101 in FY 2011, and aggregate real disposable income will to fall further by $8.08 million from $5.8 million in FY 2011 Investment declines will increase to $1.58 million from $600 thousand in FY 2011.

Which means, lest the earth-saving legislation be for naught, Leach’s bill should not just begin with a higher fee, but should include a provision which allows the fee to fluctuate every couple years based on economic estimates.

Or not. Such a law has very little chance of passing the state Legislature—and not just because of the “Get off my lawn, you God forsaken hippies” crowd. Because some often see plastic bag fees—as was part of last year’s quick Internet debate—as a tax on the poor. And that’s a fair point.

Randy cleans up his dog’s waste everyday and it makes him wonder: who is really whose master? Follow him on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

2 Responses to “ Lawmaker’s plastic bag fee doesn’t go far enough ”

  1. [...] Hartzell owns Kevin Shivers on the 2-cent plastic bag tax. Really should be at least 5 cents but we can try to raise it later: Naturally, at least one lobbying group for retailers is trying to pull the panic alarm, [...]

  2. Frank says:

    So let me get this straight. I don’t make the plastic bags/bottles or aluminum cans, but the seller of goods does. I get fined for not recycling but that’s the only way i can get products. I go to buy my food and they only offer plastic bags then charge me for it. Bad enough the prices are extremely high, now you want to charge me for buying from your store? Why not offer another way to get my groceries home? Another way to take our money and offer no goods. The american way!

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