Plastic Bag Taxs: A Real Life Story

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. 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger Joslin April 13, 2017 at 9:26 pm

Vermont is becoming little California. These people are absolutely mindless.


H. Brooke Paige April 14, 2017 at 3:10 am

The Biggest Problem at the Landfill isn’t the Little Plastic Grocery Bags !

As Rob Roper points out the single-use grocery bags (in the trade known as “t-shirt” bags because when they are opened ….) are generally reused for dozens of uses including bagging up the “goodies” for the compost pile, litter bags in the car and disposable diaper bags – in addition to all the uses Rob mentioned.

I just mentioned the real villain in the waste stream and you didn’t give it a second thought. Infant Diapers (Pampers) and Adult Incontinence Undergarments (Depends) along with Women’s Sanitary Napkins (Kotex) represent the greatest volume and most difficult commodity to deal with. While folks like Matt McKibben rail against the “t-shirt” grocery bags, they are well aware of this gigantic disposal item – political correctness and the difficulty in eliminating these “convenience” item from the marketplace.

I am old enough to remember when the diaper deliveryman was as commonplace as the milkman and if the “Greener Generation” really wanted to put a dent in the waste problem, they would give-up on their scheme to eliminate or tax the grocery bags out of existence and take on the real demon of the landfill.

If they were real “Waste Warriors,” they would be pushing to eliminate the worst disposable item from the marketplace and the waste stream. Here is an idea for them. Why not push for a ban on disposable diapers and disposable incontinent undergarments? At the very least they could suggest a 50 cent per piece tax on the products – tax of $24.00 to $36.00 per package would certainly get folks thinking about returning to washable diapers and absorbent undergarments. Of course these warriors are the same folks who have never even seen washable diapers or even heard of the diaper deliveryman – and actually considering using such a product would insult their fragile sensibilities – scrape out the poo, washing and drying the diapers – OMG ! Of course they are aware of diaper pins, however they believe they are solidarity symbols not a practical devise for keeping the under britches on little Johnny !

So rail on about the ubiquitous grocery bag and ignore the five hundred villain hiding in plain sight !


Debbie Dailey April 21, 2017 at 10:48 pm

Then there is all of the non-reusable, and often non-recyclable packaging that encloses virtually everything we buy. Think clamshells, blister packs, plastic-coated cardboard, and hunks of styrofoam, just to name a few. Maybe we should keep the plastic bags to carry home our purchases and leave the packaging behind to be returned to the manufacturer. This is just another “feel good” solution that costs money, but does nothing to effectively address a problem.


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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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