A bag full of it

In the spirit of intolerance, I have to draw this little piece of public policy to wider attention. Where I live, the local governments have imposed a bag tax: 5 cents for (paper and plastic) disposable bags, whether in supermarkets or other retail outlets. (Including paper bags is a bit bizarre, I find, especially as some of these are Forest Stewardship Certified, made from recycled waste, and presumably easily recycled or biodegradable. Such is the politics of environment policy, though.)  You actually get an equivalent discount for using your own shopping bags. A wonderful idea to deal with the environmental problems that would be posed when these bags are added to trash, especially in local waterways? Well, not quite. Whenever you shop in these same areas, and want to buy fruit and vegetables, you are encouraged, even obliged in most cases, to put them into…disposable plastic bags. These produce bags are not special or biodegradable, though often in a cute shade of light green.

Now, I went to the supermarket this weekend, I loaded up with the healthful fruit and veg, and the cashier dutifully loaded all of my plastic bags of vegetables into my shopping bags–about 7 additional plastic bags. For that, I had no extra charge to face. I imagine that if these produce bags were also to face a fee the uproar would be deafening. But, the impact seems about the same to me. I try to be a good citizen and dispose of plastic as best as I can in some form of recycling scheme, so I feel socially responsible. But, are we seeing public officials trying to put their proverbial tails somewhere where it does not belong?


About The Grasshopper

Professional international economist, recently retired from an international organization. I use blogging as a way of organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, and spent many years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for a few decades, and worked and travelled abroad extensively. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of girls. Also, married to an economist.
This entry was posted in Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Health care, Life styles, Public policy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A bag full of it

  1. Steven says:

    I have often wondered the same myself, Dennis. I think the explanation in policy terms is that the problem of bags in streams etc. really is with plastic bags with handles–the carrier bags that are now taxed at 5 cents each. The other bags you mention are without handles, are smaller, and not as convenient for carrying things around in–so are not used for carrying food and stuff, and thrown away as litter when no longer needed by irresponsible litterbugs. Think about it–have you seen these plain plastic bags littered all around, or is it the bags with the handles that cause all the problem? I think it is the latter, don’t you? The bags without handles are usually thrown away at home, when food is being unpacked. One important point to make is: all of these plastic bags, with handles or not, are recyclable–they can simply be bagged up and taken along to your neighborhood store–Giant, Wholefoods, Safeway etc. each of which has a container that is used to take used plastic bags for recycling, marked with a recycling symbol.
    I think this is a case where the perfect is the enemy of the good. If paying a tax for some plastic bags rather than others helps nevertheless reduce the number of plastic bags littering our environment, then that is fine with me (no pun intended).

    • Dennis Jones says:

      Steven, I understand your argument, and agree about the recycling possibilities of the plastic carrier bags, which certainly seemed to be used by a good amount of shoppers. I think plastic bags with handles in the waterways pose one set of problem, but any plastic bags in waterways pose several general problems to wildlife, the water courses, and more. I cannot understand the tax on paper bags, except as a fine against general litter. In which case, attack polystyrene/foam containers too. I’m not sure the creatures living in the water are adept at avoiding some types of debris that tends to float not sink.
      Logic says that a fee should go on plastic containers, too, such as PET bottles, which I see strewn around far more than plastic bags–admitted, the wind cannot toss those around as easily.
      It’s a mix of half sense for a few cents.

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