Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bag Tax

Several North American cities now have a bag tax. If you didn't bring your own bag for your shopping purchases, and want a bag, you'll have to cough up as much as a nickel for each. It's not a bad idea, considering the life span of a plastic bag is somewhere between 300-1000 years, according to plastic experts.

I have several canvas and other durable shopping bags, which I sometimes forget to bring with me when I shop. I'm a dummy. I know. But it's easy to do, since we still get all the free plastic bags we want in these parts. So, I'm working on it. Still, I welcome a tax here in Trenton. It would generate some much needed extra revenue for the city, and it would also provide some relief in the litter around here. What I like about the potential for less litter, in particular, is that often, in the thick of cleaning up my fellow Trentonian's flattened, filthy, and often wet plastic bags, I only think of my immediate disgust. Having fewer bags to pick up will likely make me a happier person because my little corner of the world will be cleaner without as much effort on my part. But so will other corners, corners perhaps inhabited by those indifferent to litter. So, the rest of us won't have to look at that filth in those places. Our neighbor across the street does the same thing — cleans up the plastic bags — and between the two of us, I'd bet our collected bag litter for one month would stretch from here to Doug Palmer's Hunterdon County manse.*

I also have a damn black plastic bag stuck in the branches of a large tree; without leaves on that tree, I see that bag flapping, flapping, flapping, out of reach, from my bedroom window. This is a common sight around Trenton, isn't it?

There are opponents to this kind of legislation who claim it's an unfair burden on the poor, but I'm here to tell you that the financially disadvantaged — and most other Trenton citizens — don't need plastic bags since they often just let their bags fly off in the breeze upon exiting the local stores, anyway. Or, the more environmentally-misguided-minded individuals will find the nearest sewer drain, and throw their unwanted plastic items in it, thus clogging the cities pipes, and necessitating our public servants to come out a few times a year to unclog them.

Some stores opt to charge for their disposable plastic bags, even though there's no law requiring them to do so. These stores tend to be the more upscale, but that's not the rule. Some discount chains, like Aldi, also charge for their plastic bags. Bag taxes are in place in Seattle, and as of January 1, 2010, Washington, D.C., as well as other progressive American and Canadian cities. China — perhaps the biggest environmental failure in the world — has also banned the use of disposable plastic shopping bags in 2008, resulting in a savings of about 37 MILLION barrels of crude oil on plastic bag production EVERY YEAR. Many nations — an interesting patchwork of developed and developing countries — also have some sort of ban in place, including Ireland, Uganda, Belgium, Ethiopia, Sweden, and Bhutan, to name a few. The American petroleum lobby is strong, which is possibly why Americans have been slow to see changes in plastic bag usage. It just seems crazy to me to be so dependent on (foreign) oil, just for disposable plastic bags, which wind up piling up in our landfills (and occasionally tree branches) for eons, anyway.

I'm sure I'll get my ass kicked in some way or another for saying this, but if any of the throng of individuals currently running for mayor and council of this city supports a plastic bag tax/litter crackdown on his/her platform, you've got my support. Unless you're one of the crazy or slimy candidates.


* I wonder, by the way, if Palmer even shoveled his own driveway during our recent snowfalls. In case you've been off the grid for the last week, that's a reference to Newark mayor's Cory Booker, who shoveled one of his constituents' driveways on New Year's Eve, after that person made a plea for help via Twitter. Perhaps it was just an election year stunt, but I haven't seen that kind of decency from any politician, maybe ever.


Taneshia said...

I'm gonna be honest. I'm torn on the concept of a bag tax. Yes, we do take bags with us shopping. In fact, I actually had to stop the bagger at Food Bazaar from first putting our groceries in a plastic bag before putting them in one of our reusable bags which was kinda weird. Anyway, we have reusable bags that we bought from Whole Foods when we didn't have a supermarket and for us dropping over $20 dollars on bags is no biggie (in addition to the $1 bags we have one big brown insulated bag that's sort of like a blocky messenger bag on steroids).

But I'm one of those that thinks it could be unfair to the poor. Seems sort of akin to a regressive tax. Again, I'm torn as we too are constantly cleaning up crap from our stoop. People even leave on our stoop their plastic bags with empty bottles and half eaten bags of chips. So, how about the bag tax only at corner stores?

Chrissy said...

I do understand that argument, Taneshia, but I'm not 100% convinced it's really THAT unfair to the poor, only because so often I see (presumably poor) people ditch their bags the minute they leave the store. Also, there's the fact that nations like China, Uganda, and Bangladesh have outright bans on bags, and certainly many citizens of those countries live in utter despair. The ban might make their lives harder, but I'm guessing not THAT much.

I am not opposed to to taxing just the corner stores, because I think they're a HUGE part of the problem, even if they aren't the ones littering. They don't have to give bags out with every single soda and chip purchase, especially if that stuff is gonna be consumed immediately. But I think there could be drawbacks to selective legislation. Washington DC's brand-ee new plastic bag tax is selective -- only stores that sell food and beverage are subject, and there's a great piece here, told by a Borders employee, about it. I'm sure things will settle down, but customers and merchants alike are irritated because if they buy something bag-worthy at a home goods (or book) store, which happens to sell snacks at the check-out, people have to buy a bag. Again, it's not the worst thing in the world, since when you're dropping $30 on books, or $40 on a toaster, what's another nickel? But I can understand their frustration. So, maybe an across-the-board tax would just be better.

There are many ways to approach this bag problem. Merchants SHOULD do more. For instance, perhaps the merchant could offer a reusable bag, gratis, for purchases over a certain amount? Or, maybe a store employee could help carry purchases to a person's car (where applicable)? This could help bring back decent customer service which is at an all-time low, methinks. Maybe in the grocery stores, boxes could be made available? Or maybe merchants could partner with green groups to get some freebie, promotional bags?

A bag tax is imperfect, even though I think it's a pretty good idea. We need to remember that we, as a society, have only been using plastic bags since the 1950s or so. Our parents and grandparents did just fine without them and I'm sure we can, too.

Chrissy said...

Also, I'm probably just the cranky lady on the corner for saying this, but why, after a whole generation or more of environmental education in the schools, are Trenton residents still littering, and worse, dumping their trash into the sewer drains? I think most of the drains here even have the little crab plaque in front of it. Why don't most people care? I think a hit in the wallet can be a very effective teacher. Also, we should enforce our littering ordinances. That could help, too.

Anonymous said...

Too much pandering to the poor has put Trenton in the sad state it's in today.

Mistër Cleän said...


I was going to bring up "your" idea at my upcoming "I Am Beautiful Trenton First Mister Clean Civic Association World Cafe Round Table Free-Association Forum"

Damn you.

Miss Karen said...

There is one advantage, for me at least, to the constantly discarded plastic bags in my neighborhood: if I forget to bring a poop bag with me when I walk the dog, there is always one available on the street somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I use reusable bags when grocery shopping...and I've never paid for reusable, cloth bag--people have given me reusable bags, I've found them for dirt cheap at second-hand stores, people leave them out at work for free. It's not unfair when it's possible to get free cloth bags. I'm sure people have old backpacks, duffel bags, etc. Almost anything that can carry something can be used--re-purpouse a sheet, for crying out loud!

I'll admit, I do still use the occasional plastic bag, but that's only to keep up a collection of poop bags for the littler box--but that's rare-and only for that purpose--otherwise, re-usable all the way!

Ms. Clean is definitely in favor of a plastic bag tax!