The debate is heating up on a proposal in California that would ban some plastic grocery bags. Assembly Bill 1998 would ban grocery stores from giving out plastic bags and require customers to pay at least 5 cents for each paper bag. Let's take a look at some of the viewpoints expressed about AB 1998 on various news-oriented websites today. Thomas D. Elias, a syndicated columnist who writes about California state issues, is in favor of the ban/tax. His column today, "Plastic bag fee is a tax you don't have to pay," cites three reasons: "Oil, crowded landfills and the persistence of plastic."
Plastic comes from oil; each plastic bag not used is a small step toward energy independence. Meanwhile, using fewer paper bags would contribute to reducing greenhouse gases by keeping more trees intact. Plus, many landfills are near capacity and the more trash piled into them, the greater the pressure to create new ones farther and farther out from where urban residents actually produce their trash. Then there's the ubiquitous nature of plastic bags: What swimmer hasn't washed up against one at an ocean beach; who hasn't seen them blowing in the wind? But here's the real reason the so-called bag tax and the partial plastic bag ban are good ideas: This is one tax you don't have to pay. Reuse existing plastic or paper bags and there's no charge. Use cloth or rattan bags, backpacks or some other container, and you'll also avoid any levy.Elias has a bias in favor of paper bags that isn't fully explained. He says: "Paper bags are neither as pernicious nor as persistent as plastic. They can be used several times if their bottoms stay dry and they decompose in landfills." Is he aware of the lifecycle studies that give an edge to plastic over paper? I don't see the logic behind treating them differently. Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council is opposed to the ban-tax bill. In his column "Give Recycling a Chance: California shouldn't ban plastic bags," Shestek calls the proposal "a nearly $1 billion hidden grocery tax," and suggests that it would eliminate the jobs of nearly 500 Californians who make bags. Shestek writes:
As you consider this issue, keep in mind that this year, the Vacaville Police Department has to cut nearly $1 million from its budget. A budget cut of this size takes uniforms off the streets. But fear not -- AB 1998 will create its own force of "bag police." They won't keep our streets safe, but they'll be sure to fine any mom and pop store giving out grocery store bags -- up to $10,000. It's just another layer of misguided government bureaucracy. We need jobs. We need teachers and real police. We need a state budget. Lawmakers should focus on these urgent problems facing Californians, not "paper or plastic?"This looks like ACC is taking a page out of its successful playbook from Seattle, where it emphasized the cost of the bag tax to consumers and convinced voters to reject a proposed 20-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags last year. On top of that, ACC is stressing that the industry has made an effort in California to recycle plastic bags -- and the Legislature should give that a chance to succeed rather than pulling out the rug and banning plastic bags. Recycling creates jobs, after all, and if consumers can keep their bags and recycle them too, perhaps that can be a long-term solution to the state's marine debris and litter problem. This is shaping up to be an interesting debate.