by Rob Roper
The chatter in the State House seems to think that the plastic bag tax (H.105) actually has some shot at getting a real hearing this year. In the past the concept has come in with a bang – a press conference by the usual suspects – and quickly fizzled. But, who knows, maybe this year will be the year! EAI has posted on the technical side of the plastic bag tax and ban proposals in the past HERE and HERE), so now I will offer a personal experience that I hope will prove cautionary.
Our get-away destination of choice is Cape Cod, and we spend a decent amount of time there. Recently the town of Chatham banned flimsy plastic grocery bags. Judging by what I’ve observed, the language of the law must be very similar H.105:
This bill proposes to prohibit a retail establishment from providing a single-use carryout bag to a consumer at the point of sale. The bill would also establish standards for reusable bags and compostable bags provided by retail establishments at the point of sale.
Now here the injustice of this: “single-use carryout bag.” Who doesn’t re-use those things all the time? I save and use them to line garbage cans throughout the house. I tuck a few in my suitcase when travelling for dirty clothes and shoes. When I take my dogs for a walk, I bring along a couple of these bags to pick up their poop. There are plenty of ways to re-use them.
However, last time I bought groceries in the Cape they did not give me one of these awesome little bags, they gave me a much more durable heavy plastic bag that met the criteria for the new law. It had separate handles, not just holes cut in the plastic. It had a defined shape, like a shopping bag rather than the amorphous grocery bag. And, it was made of a much heavier plastic, I guess to make it “re-usable.”
But the real world ramifications of this are that the new bags don’t fit in the trashcans around the house, and they’re too bulky to stuff in a pocket to take on a walk. Because of their sturdy handles you can’t tie them shut, so they don’t work as well in a suitcase for dirty clothes. Or, in other words, you can’t re-use the reusable bags the way you can the non-reusable ones. Thanks, government!
Moreover, it’s pretty clear that the non-reusable reusable bags take more energy and resources to manufacture than their banned counterparts. This policy is wasteful and contrary to the intent of the law. Let’s hope Vermont does not go down this foolish path.
And, just for fun, here’s an old picture of Vermont environmental activist Bill McKibben with his grocery cart full of plastic bags. If they’re good enough for him, they’re good enough for the rest of us.
– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.