Do you need a bag? Yeah, make it plastic

By Don Loepp
Editor

Published: February 5, 2010 6:00 am ET

Related to this story

Topics End Markets, Sustainability, Materials, Suppliers

It’s legislative season in most U.S. state capitals, so we’re starting to see a flurry of bills being proposed to tax or ban plastic bags.

From Florida to Oregon, bag restrictions are on the agenda. Legislators who are looking for new sources of revenue, or trying to deal with litter problems, or perhaps just trying to get their names in the paper, are proposing a variety of bills.

First, let’s make clear that bans and taxes are a bad idea.

Replacing polyethylene bags with paper or degradable polymers, as called for in some proposals, implies that other materials are environmentally preferable to plastics. That’s a matter of opinion, not fact, and it’s not clear that legislators are qualified to make that decision. No doubt emotion and factors other than logic will play a role if politicians make decisions on which kinds of packaging get preferential treatment.

(For proof, check out Brownsville, Texas, which recently became the 12th U.S. city to ban single-use plastic bags. I’m sure it’s a total coincidence that Brownsville is home to a paper bag factory that employs 120.)

On top of that, citizens everywhere should object to any plan to place new taxes on products that the majority of people use regularly. Taxes are necessary, but bag taxes are regressive and anti-business.

Given the negatives of bag taxes, it is good news that California legislators recently killed two bills that would have placed a 25-cent tax on single-use plastic and paper carryout bags. Legislators decided that the costs of setting up a system to impose the fee — estimated at $300,000 — and the annual enforcement cost of $1 million were not worth the effort, given the state’s budget crisis.

But the demise of the two bills in California does not mean proposals to tax or ban bags won’t resurface in the state Legislature or in individual cities. So bag makers and their suppliers need to remain committed to dealing with sustainability issues like litter and marine debris.

That means continuing to raise the profile of bag recycling efforts, and staying committed to using more recycled content in bags. Clearly, defeating legislative efforts to ban and tax bags is only winning part of the battle.

All that said, I don’t object to non-legislative efforts to get people to cut down on bag consumption. A growing number of retailers are on that bandwagon. Ikea and Whole Foods Market no longer distribute single-use plastic bags. CVS/pharmacy and Target have customer incentive programs designed to reduce plastic bag use. Wal-Mart has an ambitious goal to reduce bag use, and it’s trying a number of approaches to see which works best. Three Wal-Mart stores in California recently launched a pilot program in which no single-use plastic bags will be available for shoppers.

In the past 20 years, shoppers have gotten used to checkout clerks asking, “Paper or plastic?” But with retailers trying to cut down on plastic bag usage, consumers should get used to a new phrase at the cash register: “Do you need a bag?”

 Loepp is managing editor of  Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”


Comments

Do you need a bag? Yeah, make it plastic

By Don Loepp
Editor

Published: February 5, 2010 6:00 am ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Bayer spinning off plastics business

September 18, 2014 8:49 am ET

Bayer AG will spin off its MaterialScience plastics group into a separate, publicly-traded company within the next 12 to 18 months.    More

Image

Nolato Contour beefs up white room molding capabilities

September 18, 2014 11:56 am ET

Nolato Medical has extended its controlled environment options to include a white room at its Baldwin, Wis., Nolato Contour plant.    More

Image

PET to PET boosts recycling capacity

September 18, 2014 11:14 am ET

PET to PET Recycling Austria GmbH, a bottle-to-bottle PET recycling operation backed by Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling and several beverage...    More

Image

Minnesota receives grant to help develop new bioplastics

September 17, 2014 4:08 pm ET

The University of Minnesota has received a $20 million grant to fund the development of new types of bioplastics.    More

Badger buys competitor Joseph Homa

September 17, 2014 4:04 pm ET

Badger Plug Co. has extended its protective plugs customer base by acquiring and closing a rival, Joseph Homa Consultants Inc. of Montreal.    More

Market Reports

Plastics Caps & Closures Market Report

The annual recap of top trends and future outlook for the plastics caps & closures market features interviews with industry thought leaders and Bill Wood’s economic forecast of trends in growing end markets. You will also gain insight on trends in caps design, materials, machinery, molds & tooling and reviews of mergers & acquisitions.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook – North America

This in-depth report analyzes economic and market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as growth strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events