A plastic bag ban proposal is swirling around our county and municipal governments.
Plastic bags, like so much other garbage, end up in places they should not be. In order to protect us and the environment, government agencies up and down our state have been mulling over plastic bag bans.
Unfortunately with any item ban effort, it minimizes the responsibility of the person possessing the item. The bag clinging to a tree branch or floating in the water didn’t grow legs and walk there. At some point, an irresponsible person improperly disposed of that litter. With a bag ban, the underlying premise is: “Because some people do not properly or responsibly use an item, no one should have access to it.”
Without going into 101 uses for an unwanted plastic shopping bag, what if one uses them as waste bags or otherwise responsibly reuses them? I gather our household bags once a month and deposit them at one of the many plastic bag recycling bins found in businesses all over our community. Am I part of the problem?
If we should ban plastic bags and encourage reusable container, why not coffee cups? Shall we count the number of paper coffee cups from a well-known coffee purveyor strewn about our county? Should we mandate that people purchasing drinks from a soda fountain or coffee pot have their own reusable container?
The key to persuade business to go in an environmentally responsible direction is by consumer demand, not with yet another law or program. Emphasize that the responsibility falls on the recipient of the bag to properly dispose of it, and empower the consumer to communicate with the stores they deal with to demand a better alternative. If a person doesn’t want to use plastic bags, they can bring their own containers to use.
Like any good government program, the discussion inevitably drifts to “how many people should be hired to manage it?” and “How much should we charge everyone to enforce and maintain it?” Some proposals include charging a fee or fine for plastic bags. One local elected official said, “I don’t think the big stores are entitled to the 10 cents and we get nothing,” which should provide insight as to the real motivation.
Another feature of a good government policy is the cavalcade of exceptions. The city of San Jose implemented a bag ban, but then created a list of people and businesses that would be exempt from it. Yolo County has a bag ban, but the ban does not apply to bags used to package items such as fruits or cookies, nor to wrap flowers, newspapers or dry cleaned clothing. I was under the impression that a plastic bag is a plastic bag, and plastic bags are bad. What does it matter what its purpose is/was?
Rather than collecting a tax on bags that will inevitably go to some bureaucracy, let’s think about other solutions.
If the core issue is “plastic bags are ending up where they shouldn’t,” then here is my proposal to fix that issue: I propose a plastic bag buyback program. (Hey, it works for guns!). For every plastic bag a person turns in, they will get 10 cents. Just stamp “CA redemption value” on each bag, and watch the litter get picked up. Notice we don’t have an aluminum can epidemic in our oceans? This solution discourages new plastic bag consumption, and also reduces existing litter, which was supposedly the catalyst for the bag ban in the first place.
Our communities face many challenges, and for each of those challenges come myriad solutions. Each proposal should be thoroughly analyzed for practicality and viability. Is this proposal a result of bold, creative leadership that will bring value to our community, or is this a pack of political lemmings saying, “They are doing it over there, we should do it too!”? Think deeply; otherwise, we the people might be left “holding the bag.”
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.