The Conundrum of Consumer Bags

So, the town of Barrington is well on its way to banning the use of plastic shopping bags among the commercial establishments within its borders:

… the town conservation commission has already voted to ban the use of plastic grocery bags at retail stores. The proposal now goes before the Town Council for review.
If it passes, Barrington would become the second town in New England to impose such a law, increas ingly popular along the trendy West Coast. San Francisco banned plastic bags in large grocery stores and pharmacies in 2007, followed by Oakland and Los Angeles.

The move is triply surreal. For one thing, as American Progressive Bag Alliance spokeswoman argues, “Paper bags are worse for the earth.” That is, the ban would be a government restraint on human activity that is at best debatable.
Continue reading on the Ocean State Current

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Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“For one thing, as American Progressive Bag Alliance spokeswoman argues, ‘Paper bags are worse for the earth.'”
An industry spokesperson says so? Case closed! Think no further, conservatives (seriously, the industry lobby would really prefer if you don’t think too hard about this one). What Justin misses is there is a big cost associated with plastic bags at the landfill.
plasticbaglaws.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/study_plastic-bag-externalities-in-RI-2006.pdf

As owners and managers of the central landfill, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) has an economic incentive to reduce the plastic bag waste stream in Rhode Island. RIRRC is responsible for any trash blown off the landfill to neighboring land.1 As a result, they have received fines totaling $1 million annually from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) for trash found on the perimeter of the landfill.2 As plastic grocery bags account for a large quantity of this litter (192 million bags are consumed annually in Rhode Island), it is in the best interest of RIRRC to reduce the number of plastic bags that it takes into the landfill.3

So plastic bags constitute a $1 million tax on RI consumers payable to the corporate special interests represented by the likes of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (DOW Chemical, ExxonMobil. etc.).
Of course, reusable bags make the most economic and evnironmental sense, but these polluting special interests definitely don’t want us to do that (like I said, think no further). Hopefully more and more will start bringing them.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

As I’ve said before, Russ, your deliberate ill will in these discussions affects your reading comprehension. Note the phrase “at best debatable.” That’s not quite “case closed.”
Also, you should read your own references more closely. Even just from the paragraph that you quote, plastic bags don’t “constitute a $1 tax,” for at least two reasons:
1. $1 million is the fine for *all* trash. The paragraph doesn’t say how much of that comes from plastic bags (or even how much of it might just be coincidentally near the landfill), but it’s surely not 100%.
2. The money is paid from one government agency to another. That may not be a complete wash, from a taxpayer perspective, but it must at least be adjusted downward.
And in any event, the option that you glide right past is coming up with some other way of preventing that waste from leaving the landfill in the first place, rather than restricting consumer choice and adding one more regulation for RI business.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“your deliberate ill will in these discussions affects your reading comprehension”
What a shock… insults and personal attacks from the fringe right. Clearly no ill will there, which may explain why you project that type of hostility on me.
In any case, I’m sure there are some conservatives out there who can spot corporate bs as well as me. There’s nothing partisan about wanting a cleaner RI and nothing partisan about discussing the true costs and the alternatives the lobby conveniently ignores.
Yes, folks, fines paid to the DEM aren’t taxes! It’s free money. In fact, we should just fine them 10x as much since there is no impact on tax payers.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

And thus Russ continues to skirt substantive discussion, based on his repeated proven sense of superiority. No mention of the failure to consult local businesses for a cost-benefit discussion; no mention of the much larger matter of concentration on nits when the entire economic fabric is coming apart. (You did notice the “continue reading” link at the end of the post, right, Russ?)
Once again: understanding that self-interested BS flows both ways is why I noted that the matter is “debatable.”
But perhaps further discussion is fruitless until Russ has given some indication that he’s followed the link and finished reading the post.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“And in any event, the option that you glide right past is coming up with some other way of preventing that waste from leaving the landfill in the first place…”
I’m sure that will be free, right? I want lower costs and increased efficiency, not some government boondoggle to somehow screen in the landfill.
My solution doesn’t cost a cent so long as folks take personal responsibility for their actions. Perhaps we should just charge folks using the bags (either kind) to pay for the externalized costs. Why should I pay more taxes so that you can pollute?

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“And thus Russ continues to skirt substantive discussion, based on his repeated proven sense of superiority.”
More personal attacks. What a surprise. (guess I touched a nerve)
btw, I clicked through. Hardly worth the effort, except to inflate your page views over there. You go on to compare paper to plastic, as if there are no alternatives (yes, think no further, consumers.. love, your corporate bffs).

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

How ’bout just requiring that bags be SOLD and not given away. Even for a few cents apiece.If there are legal issue, an entirely refundable (to the business) $0.02 ‘tax’ on each plastic bag that crosses the counter could be levied.
Giving something a cost reduces use and imbues it with a value. Something with a value will tend to be reused.
I like plastic bags, they’re great for carrying my lunch to work, and for changes of clothes when I bike, and they’re invaluable in my quest to clean up after my dog.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@oceanstatecurrent)
9 years ago

Mangeek,
In theory, the bags are already sold, to the extent that they’re figured into the expenses of the company.
The larger point is this, though: Why don’t we turn RI’s economy around first, and then, when taxpayers aren’t leaving the state by the thousands, when shoppers aren’t crossing the border to avoid sales taxes, when our unemployment number isn’t nearly double that of Massachusetts, *then* we’ll worry about how to solve such pressing issues as the bags that people use to transport their purchases?
That’s the point that Russ is studiously avoiding. People seem to have this idea that banning things is a quick’n’easy answer to perceived problems. It’s not, and the more effort that goes into the decision, the more it highlights the insignificance of the issue relative to matters that are really making Rhode Islanders suffer and dampening their quality of life.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

For years now, I have been practicing for retirement. In the morning, while shaving, I look in the mirror and say “paper, or plastic”. Seriously, there are numerous areas of the country, Ann Arbor, MI, Berkeley, CA, Cambridge, MA, where “feel goods” are necessary. The populace is “concerned” and must be allowed to believe that they are “doing something”. Of course, these ideas can “get legs” and then they effect all of us. For instance, a state law banning plastic bags would probably please 15-20% of the population. The rest would probably just think “the government at play again”. I just have to grin and bear it. Ex-military might accept it as BOHICA. Those numbers would tell politicians that they can buy a few votes very simply, without losing much. Of course, sometimes these “feel goods” get crazy like requiring the taxpayers to fund the Chevy Volt. That is why these ideas have to be watched more carefully that their relative importance would suggest. A heavily subsidized “wind farm” anyone? I can’t help but wonder if anyone has considered a shredder for plastic bags? I can’t help but think that would aid in their “million years” without degrading. I don’t think that idea has as much “feel good” as being a “refusenik”. I suppose that dealing with the problem is no where near as good as “standing up against it”. I also wonder if the lack of response to the problem does not suggest that the problem is no where near as great as supposed. I have just ordered some red rubber “mulch” for my lawn. I hope that will still be there in a “million years”. Still, I wonder about vinyl siding. Shouldn’t Barrington ban that too? Won’t that be in the landfill for a “million years” too? Of… Read more »

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

I would echo what Justin says about priorities and, with great difficulty, avoid a snarky comment involving the income demographic of the community considering this ban and their apparent corresponding lack of any larger worries.
To take the bait, however, and delve into the argument, Mangeek hits on the real weakness of the proposed ban: the problem is not the first use of the bag, it’s the second. That’s what would be difficult to eliminate.
Mangeek has a dog. My re-use is the more prosaic of trash disposal. If I can no longer obtain plastic “liner” bags from checking out at the grocery store, I will purchase them. Therefore, the number of plastic bags that wind up in the landfill will not decrease, at least, not from the sector who prefers a liner for their trash pail.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
9 years ago

Russ,
Did your mother breast feed you until age 13?… Just asking. You are always so cranky.
Oh forgot…I am a conservative member of the Tea Party. Now you can feel good.

Max D.
Max D.
9 years ago

Sheldon Whitehouse:
“Banning plastic bags??? What an excellent idea. I’ll introduce a bill! I’ll be an Eco Hero!!! Ban those nasty high polluting scourges of the environment!!! Let me call my broker first.”

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“I am a conservative member of the Tea Party.”
Personal attacks from the Tea Party? What a shock.
“Government Waste: Paper or Plastic—they are costing our cities millions!”

The City of San Francisco estimates the cost of clean up and landfill at 17 cents per bag. Here is how they calculated the cost per bag for the 50 million bags used in that city per year.
Contamination of recycling stream: $1.09 million/year = 2.2 cents per bag.
Collecting and disposing of bags: $3.6 million/year = 7.2 cents per bag.
Removing bags from streets: $2.6 million/year = 5.2 cents per bag.
Processing in landfills: $1.2 million/year = 2.4 cents per bag.
Total cost per bag in SF alone: $8.49 million/year = 17 cents per bag

Taxed enough already?

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“How ’bout just requiring that bags be SOLD and not given away. Even for a few cents apiece.”
That’s been highly effective in other countries, but the special interests lobby doesn’t want you discussing that for sure. Knock that off, mangeek.
http://www.reuseit.com/learn-more/top-facts/about-irelands-plastax

In March of 2002, Republic of Ireland became the first country to introduce a plastic bag fee, or PlasTax. Designed to rein in their rampant consumption of 1.2 billion plastic shopping bags per year, the tax resulted in a 90% drop in consumption, and approximately 1 billion fewer bags were consumed annually. To complete the win-win scenario, approximately $9.6 million was raised from the tax in the first year, which is earmarked for a green fund established to benefit the environment…
The purpose of the fee is to change consumer behavior, not to generate revenue, moving habits from mindless consumption, to reducing and reusing. In a nutshell, it’s a simple market-based solution in the form of a consumption tax. Individuals pay a fee of $.15 per plastic bag consumed at check out.

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

Russ, I’m all about that sort of thing. I don’t even think it needs to be as high as fifteen cents, just a nickel per bag will have people using far fewer.
What we’ll see is that there are people who don’t think this sort of ‘behavior tweak’ imposed from above is a valid function of government.
I think it’s a totally acceptable way to get people as a whole to behave more responsibly, and that it IS a valid function of government, even in a free society.
The reason I wanted the tax to be fully-refundable to the business owners is that I don’t want the legislators to start seeing this as a source of revenue, or else we’ll have $1.25 bags before long.

Max D.
Max D.
9 years ago

“So plastic bags constitute a $1 million tax on RI consumers payable to the corporate special interests represented by the likes of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (DOW Chemical, ExxonMobil. etc.).”
How charming. The ‘progressive’ is worried about a tax on Rhode Islanders.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Posted by Russ:
“In March of 2002, Republic of Ireland became the first country to introduce a plastic bag fee, or PlasTax.”
Wonder or wondrs, a new “sin tax”. That is among those taxes most dearly loved by politicians.
Posted by Monique:
“My re-use is the more prosaic of trash disposal.”
I do the same, I do not see the point of paying ofr trash bags. To do this efficiently is difficult. My town has a recycling law which requires me to divide my trash. Since “economy of motion is the first mark of a gentlemen”, I throw it all in the same bag. Then I take it to one of my dumpsters. For reasons unknown to me, the division of recyclables disappers if you pay for a dumpster.
With all of the plastics to be disposed of, why do we focus on plastic bags? “Because we can”.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“With all of the plastics to be disposed of, why do we focus on plastic bags?”
Because they are particularly harmful and because recycling of this type of plastic is not cost effective.
Nice, short overview of the problem:
http://www.citizenscampaign.org/PDFs/The-Dangers-of-Plastic-Bags.pdf

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

“I throw it all in the same bag. Then I take it to one of my dumpsters.”
Really? People who can form coherent thoughts aren’t recycling yet? I’m disappointed in you, Warrington!

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

The limousine progressives in DC and Montgomery County, who live in million-dollar homes, have instituted a 5 cent bag tax, because 10% sales tax and astronomical property taxes weren’t enough. I try to buy NOTHING in these areas in favor of Virginia, but sometimes I cheat for a lunch or two. The progressives have also burdened the lower class by banning Walmart, Target, and any other “large” retail stores offering affordable prices and quality service.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“Banning plastic bags??? What an excellent idea. I’ll introduce a bill! I’ll be an Eco Hero!!! Ban those nasty high polluting scourges of the environment!!! Let me call my broker first.”
lol
Note to self: mustn’t forget to check with the Senate committees for the latest insider information to pass to my broker!
— Sheldon “Gupta” Whitehouse
news.firedoglake.com/2012/06/15/highest-ranking-executive-convicted-in-insider-trading-probe/

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Dan, the expectation is that folks will bring their own bags. As Justin mentioned, we already pay for the plastic bags with every purchase. Eliminating those hidden fees would pay for reusable bags many times over.
Notably Bangladesh banned plastic bags a decade ago. The ban actually had the effect of reviving a segment of their economy…
“Bangladesh’s ‘golden fibre’ comes back from the brink”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14791644

Mark L.
Mark L.
9 years ago

Walmart and quality service in the same sentence; now that is funny.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Mark – Walmart bends over backwards to please its customers. I’m surprised you would even dispute that. Perhaps you’ve just heard stories from your union friends? They drill the customers-first philosophy into every level of staff as if it were a religion. If they piss off a single customer, they’ve forfeited a potential $100,000 or more in future sales from that customer. They don’t sweat $100 here or there to make a customer happy. I’ve been very satisfied with my experiences there.
Russ – Those “reusable” cloth bags your progressive brethren are so keen on pollute something on the order of 200x as much in their manufacturing as a plastic bag. If you plan on using one of those bags over 200x, then perhaps you have an argument, otherwise it’s just mindless feel-goodism. And I hope you don’t mind bacteria in your food – cloths bags are by far the least hygienic option.

Mark L.
Mark L.
9 years ago

Dan –
All businesses should put their customers first or they usually do not stay in business long. Target has good customer service I find – Walmart has no service. But as always, when someone disagrees with your view of the world the union word comes out. Did unionized teachers grade your homework too hard in school? Or did the unionized bus drivers not let us sit in the back of the bus? Walmart and customer service is a joke, union or no union.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

Wow! Double digit 2nd highest unemployment in the country, worst business environment in the country, top 5 most expensive places to live, one of the lowest percentage of skilled labor, failing public education, multiple municipalities on the verge of collapse, and 25 posts about banning plastic bags. I think Justin’s point has been made that someone’s priorities are in the wrong place.

Bob
Bob
9 years ago

What the heck’s up with the projo site?
Make bags with ‘medicinal hemp’, last forever.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Mark – Walmart has been on the progressive **** list for some time now for two reasons: corporate “bigness” and lack of unionization. It is one of a few businesses that they go out of their way to actually ban from certain areas of the country. Walmart is single most helpful thing to a poor area of the country because it provides jobs that are above average-wage for the industry and incredibly low prices. They also banned Giant and Wegmans from parts of Montgomery County – I hope the poor people there like paying $7.99/lb for organic chicken and $14.99/lb for salmon at Whole Foods with their self-proclaimed progressive masters.
I’ve been to non-union private schools and a unionized public school. My experience in the union school was a total joke – think teachers reading the newspaper and less than five minutes of homework per night. I got highest honors without studying for a single test.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Posted by Russ “Because they are particularly harmful and because recycling of this type of plastic is not cost effective.” A lot of “half truths” in the video, Plastic bags are petroleum products. Well, yes, as are most plastics. Vaseline too, if that interests you. Not to mention teflon and aspirin. Think how many plastic bags could be made from the vinyl siding on a house. So, why the anger over plastic bags? Because every pot walloper knows one. And there are all of those wonderful pictures of animals strangled by them. I realize that a $10.00 shredding machine lacks the required drama, but it would be so easy. Far better to be a “refusenik” and carry a cloth bag to declare it. Russ a great many things cannot be recycled “cost-effectively”. One of the reasons is that many things degrade in recycling. The world can only use so many “packing peanuts” The key is “cost effective”, no one would recycle aluminum cans without government intervention. Collection and transport are just too expensive. A thought for those old enough to remember when the government banned “rip top” aluminum cans, because people were cutting their feet on them. Does anyone know anyone who actually cut themselves? Of all of the problems facing our society, this is truly a tempest in a teapot. But look at the number of responses. How has it become a “hot button” issue? A lot of “half truths” in the video, Plastic bags are petroleum products. Well, yes, as are most plastics. Vasoline too,if that interests you. Not to mention teflon and aspirin. Think how many plastic bags could be made from the vinyl siding on a house. So, why the anger over plastic bags? Because every pot walloper knows one. And there are all of those… Read more »

KenW
KenW
9 years ago

As you Anchor Rising posters debate pros and cons of plastic bag bans in Barrington, you missed that Hawaii has become the only state in the United States 2012 where every county has plastic bag legislation making Hawaii 1st state in nation to totally ban plastic bags.
However, in Hawaii the plastic bag ban is being phased in over the course of 2 years before full implementation.
Hawaii just received a prestigious 2012 “waste-to-energy facility of the year” national award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Materials and Energy Recovery Division for its Honolulu Program of Waste Energy Recovery (HPOWER) waste to power electric power plant which just expanded to a 3rd boiler that will burn an additional 300,000 tons of trash annually at Campbell Industrial Park, leaving only about 15% of Oahu’s waste to end up in the dump (landfill) except for any discardedplastic bags which will go to HPOWER.
Hawaii cares about its endangered animals, seabirds, sea life and environment.
Honolulu is ranked 2nd cleanest international city in the world.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

“Recovery (HPOWER) waste to power electric power plant which just expanded to a 3rd boiler that will burn an additional 300,000 tons of trash annually at Campbell Industrial Park, leaving only about 15% of Oahu’s waste to end up in the dump (landfill) except for any discardedplastic bags which will go to HPOWER.”
KenW,
Would that be an incinerator? OMG!!!

KenW
KenW
9 years ago

Max D,
Yep if you want to call it that!
A very high tech ultra-clean burning incinerator 3 of them to be exact that creates 75MW of electric power the city sells to Hawaiian Electric Company burning 900,000 tons of trash, plastic bags and garbage a year that would either go into an island landfill or be barged to the mainland.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

KenW,
I have no problem with it but do you think it would ever fly in Rhode Island. If I remember right, we couldn’t even sell old tires to an incinerator in CT.

KenW
KenW
9 years ago

Max D, City and County of Honolulu HPOWER is built and operated by Covanta Energy of NJ (one of the world’s largest owners and operators of infrastructure for the conversion of waste-to-energy as well as other waste disposal and renewable energy production businesses) and it has been developed in 3 carefully planned stages. It burns very very clean and there is no malodor. The new $800 million Walt Disney Aulani Resort & Spa, Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa (this is where NFL Pro Bowl players stay), Ko Olina (when finished will have 12 resorts and spas) the 2nd Waikiki Beach is a few miles away across the harbor. HPOWER is so blended into the landscape you’d never know it is there and there and there is no smell. RI has the central landfill in Johnston. Drive by it on 295 and you can smell it. That would never fly in HI. Could a waste-to-energy plant work in RI? Yes and at the central landfill in Johnston plus the State of RI could have a consistent income stream selling electricity to National Grid. Actually each RI city and town could go back to operating their own incinerator but upgraded to local waste-to-energy power plant with the new technology and sell their electric power to National Grid creating an income stream. Depending on how much garbage Block Island creates a waste-to-energy power plant makes more sense than offshore wind turbines. HI is the most isolated major population in the world so self-sustainability is foremost in everything that is designed and done in HI. Because HI has 70% of U.S.A. endangered species, environmental concerns play an important part of HI daily life. Waste-to-energy makes sense in HI because we live on an island and there is only so much damage the island land… Read more »

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“If you plan on using one of those bags over 200x, then perhaps you have an argument, otherwise it’s just mindless feel-goodism.”
True, and yes, of course. Why wouldn’t I reuse them hundreds of times? They do cost money, and I think I’ve had some for almost a decade now. In any case, the production costs are only half the equation.
“And I hope you don’t mind bacteria in your food – cloths bags are by far the least hygienic option.”
Good point, but the Barrington law specifically exempts certain items:

Dry-cleaning bags, barrier bags (used to wrap fruit, fish, flowers and baked goods) and bags larger than 28 inches by 36 inches would be exempt.

I’ll admit I usually bag my produce, but those bags go in a reusable bag at checkout.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Does anyone know anyone who actually cut themselves?”
Used to happen at the pool on occasion.

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