The COVID-19 virus pandemic has seen an unprecedented reaction by our government officials in shutting down the economy, stay at home orders, and shortages of essential items at grocery, department and drug stores. One noteworthy change is that stores seeking to protect their employees and customers will no longer accept customer supplied reusable bags and instead recommend the use of store-provided paper or plastic bags all without charging the mandatory 10-cent fee.
San Francisco, the California city where the plastic bag ban got its start, has temporarily banned customer supplied reusable bags for sanitary reasons. Specifically, the city is “not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.”
In addition, Governor Chris Sununu from the state of New Hampshire announced that reusable bags will be temporarily banned during the COVID-19 outbreak and that all retail stores will be required to use single-use paper or plastic bags.
Other states like Maine and New York have postponed implementation of, or enforcement of plastic bag bans until after the pandemic is over.
Now that California voters have approved the statewide plastic bag ban; many consumers are now faced with the task of selecting and using an alternative method to transport their purchases home. All of these alternative methods are costlier, time consuming, and more inconvenient than the store provided paper or plastic carryout bags previously supplied through indirect cost.
Bag options available to the shopper are as follows:
Use No Bags. In past surveys, about 42% of shoppers chose this option. Either carrying their groceries in their arms or putting them back in the shopping cart to transport their purchases back to the car.
Use Your Own Plastic Bags. Use those plastic grocery bags you have stashed away and when they are gone, purchase your own plastic T-shirt bags. You can purchase a box of 1000 T-shirt carryout bags for between $10 and $25 either from a local distributor or from an internet store and are available in white or neon colors. Keep a box in each car you own and you will always have bags with you when you shop. Estimated yearly cost is about $45.
Use Store-Provided Paper or Plastic Reusable Bags. This option will cost you a minimum of 10-cents per bag. Estimated yearly cost is about $78. By reusing these bags a few times for shopping, you can cut down your out-of-pocket cost.
Bring and Use Your Own Reusable Bags. A wide variety of reusable bags are available for purchase from cloth to bags made from non-woven polypropylene and similar materials. Estimated yearly cost is between $250 and $300. The estimated cost not only includes your out-of-pocket cost to purchase and replace bags, but also includes the value of your time to manage and wash reusable bags.
Bring and Use Your Own Collapsible Crate. Several types of collapsible crates or baskets are available that can be used to transport your groceries to your home.
On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, California voters voted by a narrow margin to approve Proposition 67, the statewide plastic grocery bag ban. According to the Secretary of State website the vote was as follows:
YES – 7,228,900 votes or 53.3%
NO – 6,340,322votes or 46.7%
Similarly, Proposition 65, a companion measure that would only be effective if Proposition 67 is passed by voters, failed. This measure would require grocers and retailers who are mandated to collect a 10-cent fee for each carryout bag issued at the point of sale, to deposit those moneys into a special fund to support specified environmental projects. (CalRecycle, 2016) According to the Secretary of State website Proposition 65 failed as follows:
NO – 7,276,478 votes or 53.9%
YES – 6,222,547 votes or 46.1%
According to the Cal Recycle website the measure became effective 9 November 2016. Regarding a grace period, the website states: “When Governor Brown signed SB 270 in 2014, the effective dates of the bill’s statutory requirements would have allowed a grace period prior to the onset of the law’s ban on distribution of single-use plastic bags and requirement for stores to charge customers at the point of sale for recycled paper bags and reusable grocery bags. However, when the referendum qualified for the November 2016 ballot, implementation of SB 270 was suspended. Proposition 67 passed and the law is in effect as originally written.” (CalRecycle, 2016) This means shoppers should expect to be charged 10-cents for each store provided paper or plastic reusable bag next time they shop. To avoid those fees, simply bring your own bags of any type or do not use carryout bags at all. Continue reading California Voters Approve Statewide Bag Ban→
Most plastic bag bans follow the simple formula of banning plastic grocery bags and placing a fee on paper bags in order to force shoppers to bring and use their own reusable bags. A bag ban is justified because littered plastic grocery bags are unsightly litter that can cause harm to wildlife through ingestion. However, absent from the discussion are three key issues: (1) the magnitude of plastic grocery bag litter; (2) the cost to consumers to comply with a bag ban; and (3) the impact on reducing litter, particularly plastic debris, that finds its way to the ocean and potentially causes harm to wildlife through ingestion.
When these issues are honestly looked at we discover that plastic bag litter is negligible and the cost to consumers is disproportionate to the results achieved. For example, plastic bag litter comprises only 0.6% of roadside litter of which about only half (about 0.3%) is plastic grocery bags. Hence, a plastic bag ban will still leave 99.7% of litter that must be cleaned up through traditional litter abatement methods. The effort to clean up the remaining 99.7% of litter could easily include the other 0.3% (e.g. plastic grocery bags and retail carryout bags) as part of the total effort. In other words, a plastic bag ban is not needed and certainly NOT JUSTIFIED for the small amount of plastic grocery bags littered in the community.
Furthermore, the cost to consumers to eliminate plastic grocery bags from roadside litter averages about 12-cents for each 2-cent plastic bag eliminated by a bag ban. Add to that the cost of plastic bag bans by local and state governments and costs incurred by retailers increasing the total cost far more than the 12-cents cost per plastic bag incurred by consumers! If you compute the annual cost per littered bag, it will be on the order of $250.00 per littered plastic bag per year. Obviously, this is NOT a good deal for consumers! So not only is a plastic bag ban a waste of time and money for the public; it is also a waste of time and money on the part of the environmentalist who promotes bag bans for such a miniscule reduction in litter, when traditional comprehensive litter abatement methods exist that will not only eliminate all plastic bags but also other plastic debris that makes its way to the ocean potentially harming wildlife.
As previously noted in the blog article titled “San Jose Painfully Learns Litter Problems Were Not Solved by Plastic Bag Ban!”, the City of San Jose is painfully discovering that it’s much touted plastic bag ban that cost residents millions of dollars did virtually nothing to solve the city’s serious litter problems. According to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), one of the stated reasons for implementing the bag ban was to reduce litter on city streets, in creeks, and in storm drains. (City of San Jose, 2010) Two years after the plastic bag ban was implemented, that there has been no reduction of overall litter. Furthermore, the case is made, using San Jose’s own litter surveys and claims of bag ban success, to show that the plastic bag ban was never needed but was a very expensive mistake.
Although the exact number of single-use paper and plastic carryout bags used in the city is unknown, the city estimates that 68 million paper bags and 500 million single-use plastic carryout bags are used every year. In fact the Draft EIR identifies that 1.4 plastic bags are used per day by every living person in the City of San Jose which equates to 511 plastic carryout bags per person per year. (City of San Jose, 2010) This means that a family of four would use 4 x 511 or 2044 plastic bags per year.
In a November 20, 2012 memorandum to the San Jose City Council from Kerrie Romanov (Director of Environmental Services for San Jose) the following statement was made:
Some people welcome a ban on plastic carryout bags, others are opposed, and others are not sure. This article is intended for those of you who are in between and unsure whether you should oppose or support a bag ban.
With as much that goes on in the world today that vies for our attention, getting excited about plastic grocery bags (i.e. plastic carryout bags) is certainly not high on the totem pole. We live in a topsy–turvy world where things that were once banned are allowed (e.g. marijuana) and things that were once allowed are now banned (e.g. plastic carryout bags).
So how can we approach this subject in a fair and impartial manner? How can we determine if we should support or oppose a bag ban? We know that when the legislature or a local jurisdiction passes a law they are trying to solve a perceived problem. So the answer to the question is to understand the nature of the problem and how the proposed solution or law intends to solve that problem and most important what alternative solutions were considered. The more clearly we understand this the better we can see how our personal freedom and liberties are affected and whether that intrusion is warranted and justified.
The purpose of this paper is not to provide a detailed explanation of the problem and the solution (e.g. plastic bag ban) but a philosophical argument about why or why not bag bans should be opposed.
On 19 August 2014, the Santa Clara City Council, by a unanimous vote, passed an Ordinance to prohibit the distribution of single-use carry-out bags including the approval and Adoption of a Negative Declaration pursuant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The latter document declared that the bag ban will not result in a significant environmental impact.
Similar to ordinances passed by other cities, the proposed ordinance would ban the distribution of plastic carryout bags at point of sale beginning 1 December 2014. Retailers may also make paper bags or reusable bags (Cloth or thick plastic bags) available for sale at a minimum fee of 10 cents. In addition, customers who participate in WIC or SNAP (Food Stamp Programs) are eligible to receive one or more paper bags at NO COST. The fees collected by the retail establishment are to be retained by the retailer and are meant to pay for the cost of implementing the ordinance (i.e. the cost of paper bags provided to customers paying the paper bag fee and the cost of free paper bags received by WIC and SNAP participants.) (van Leeuwen, Plastic Bag Ban Creates New Welfare Benefit, 2013) A retail establishment is subject to a fine for each occurrence where it provides a customer a plastic carryout bag not meeting the requirements of a reusable bag at the point of sale for the purpose of carrying purchases home. Continue reading Santa Clara City Council Passes Bag Ban→
Most communities that have implemented plastic bag bans have generally followed the same prescription. First, plastic carryout bag are banned at checkout, and a minimum fee of 10-cents is charged for each paper bag issued in order to coerce shoppers into bringing their own reusable bags. In addition, most communities but not all, provide an exemption to the paper bag fee for certain low income groups.
Most communities that have passed plastic bag bans have done so without seriously considering the impact upon on community residents. In particular the costs imposed on residents complying with the bag ban. While a few cities have calculated the cost of reusable bags for a typical family, they have largely ignored the value of personal time required for residents to handle reusable bags (such as the effort to put bags into the car, wash bags on a regular basis, dry bags, fold bags, etc.) and the increased cost of water and energy. As a result such estimates are flawed and incomplete.
Currently, retail stores distribute plastic and paper bags to customers at checkout to carry their purchases home at no additional charge. The cost of these bags is included in retail prices paid for and shared by all customers.
Customers who choose to use no bags or reusable bags still pay a small portion toward paper and plastic bags, even when they choose not to receive such bags. However, some stores do credit customers for every reusable bag used.
Officials in many communities across California and the Nation have implemented bans on the distribution of plastic carryout bags at selected retailers including a fee on paper bags. The fee on paper bags is imposed for no other reason than to coerce shoppers to switch to using reusable bags. The reason most often given by these officials is the litter and aesthetic problem posed by plastic carryout bags and the harm caused to marine and terrestrial environments including wildlife.
These officials, have unfortunately, succumbed to political correctness and the self-interest of being seen as “green” and supportive of the environment. However, instead of due diligence to carefully evaluate alternative solutions, officials adopt the same populist prescription implemented by other communities.
Although Bag Ban Proponents are passionate about their zeal to protect the environment, their ideas are generally disconnected from reality and their solutions don’t work and are unrealistic. Nowhere is this more aptly illustrated than in the communities of San Jose and Santa Monica where bag usage surveys reveal that shoppers opt for paper bags or no bags over reusable bags by a ratio of two-to-one. In other words, the majority of shoppers reject using reusable bags.
Because officials do not carefully evaluate the litter impact of plastic carryout bags compared to the impact that a plastic bag ban will have on their citizens, officials have unwittingly traded one problem for another. In other words, the bag ban doesn’t really solve a problem, it only shifts the problem from one area to another. What is worse, a plastic bag litter problem which has no impact in your personal life, now after a bag ban presents a series of challenges, in your face, each and every time you go shopping.