[PN Managing Editor] Don Loepp is correct about the ineffectiveness associated with plastic bag taxes [“Report says bag taxes are ‘disappointing,' ” May 12, “The Plastics Blog”]. Plastic bags are only a segment of a larger problem of littering and pollution and the vast majority of disposal problems arise from the consumer, not the supplier. The anti-plastic crowd tries to tax the supplier without changing consumers' behavioral habits. The main objectives needed toward reducing waste are altering consumers' disposal habits or producing a cost-effective product that can substitute for plastic bags in the marketplace.
Taxing suppliers or distributors is counterproductive toward eliminating waste because the inherent demand or wasteful behavior from the consumer is unchanged; the only thing that has changed is the increase in price passed along through the producer to the consumer. Essentially, the same situation will exist post-tax as pre-tax, only with higher costs assumed by all and a small fee distributed to local governments.
There are feasible efforts that could improve disposal methods as well as benefit manufacturers at the same time. For example, the recycling program for plastic bags is inefficient because the consumer has little incentive to return the bag and the sheer amount recycled doesn't yield enough to recoup the energy used during the production process. However, if the program incentivized consumers monetarily, the amount of bags would increase and therefore motivate producers to find effective ways to reuse the bags toward future production.
Lastly, we have an economic system that encourages competition and substitute products, so there is an inherent market for a product that can substitute for plastic bags. Distributors are as cost-conscious as anyone and if there were a biodegradable bag cheaper than plastic they would be inclined to use that product. However, these aren't easy solutions, but some of the anti-plastic groups think they have found an easy solution — simply to tax bags — which as the blog points out has little impact on long-term behavior and does even less to impact waste in America.