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.
The San Jose Mercury News recently published an editorial entitled “Success! California’s first-in-the-nation plastic bag ban works”. The editorial claims that because fewer plastic bags were found during this year’s Coastal Clean Up day proves that California’s “grand experiment” with a plastic bag ban is a success. (Mercury News & East Bay Times Editorial Boards, 2017)
But is finding fewer littered plastic bags a real measure of the bag ban’s success? If not, how do you really measure the success of the state’s plastic bag ban law? Is success not determined by results and how well each of the law’s objectives are met? The answer is a resounding, Yes!
Success is defined as “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” (Oxford Dictionary, 2017) Using this definition and assuming a narrowly defined goal to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic grocery bag litter, then the plastic bag ban could be considered “a success”. It could never be otherwise! After all, if you ban or sharply curtail the use of single-use plastic grocery bags there will be fewer available to be littered. Continue reading Is California’s Bag Ban Really a Success?→
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→
On Tuesday, August 25 the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors passed an Ordinance on a 3-2 vote to ban Single-Use Plastic Bags at Markets and pharmacies in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County.
Supervisors Salud Carbajal, Janet Wolf, and Doreen Farr voted for the bag ban and Supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino voted against the bag ban.
Opponents of the California statewide plastic bag ban successfully challenged the state law by collecting enough signatures from registered voters to put the measure on the 2016 ballot through the referendum process, a safeguard provided in California’s Constitution. The statewide referendum will finally give ordinary citizens the opportunity to vote on this unpopular measure.
On October 21, 2015, the Oceanside City Council voted 3-2 against moving ahead with a proposed plastic bag ban. Councilmen Jack Feller and Jerry Kern and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez opposed the agenda item and Mayor Jim Wood and Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery voted in favor. (Sifuentes, Council trashes plastic bag ban proposal, 2015)
The agenda item, if it had passed, would have directed city staff and the Utilities Commission to prepare a Single-Use Carryout Bag ordinance from the sample Single-Use Carryout Bag ordinance contained in Appendix Q of the Oceanside Zero Waste Strategic Resource Management Plan, seek public input, and submit a proposed ordinance with recommendations to the council.
Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery put the proposed bag ban ordinance on the agenda, citing that plastic carryout bags are polluting local waterways and beaches. (Sifuentes, 2015)
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.
Dallas, Texas. Faced with a lawsuit claiming that the city did not have authority to tax plastic grocery bags, a lawsuit the city was certain to lose, the Dallas City Council voted 10-4 to repeal the ordinance that placed 5-cent fee on plastic grocery bags. In a companion motion, to ban plastic grocery bags entirely, the City Council voted 9-6 to reject the ban. On Monday, 8 June grocery stores will again be able to issue plastic grocery bags to shoppers for free. (Findell, 2015)
Unlike California, where grocers get to keep 100% of the plastic and paper bag fees; grocers in Dallas only get to keep 10% with 90% of the fee going to the city. The 5-cent plastic bag fee was originally approved by Dallas City Council in March 2014 and went into effect in January, 2015. (Gillett, 2015)
The Dallas plastic grocery bag fee became a hot issue when a group of bag manufacturers and recyclers filed suit against the city. The lawsuit alleged that the 5-cent-per-bag tax passed by the City Council in March 2014 violates the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act. At the time the Dallas Bag Fee was passed, then-State Attorney General Greg Abbott (now Governor Abbott) was looking into whether bag bans or taxes were legal in the state. He concluded that such ordinances were a violation of state law. (Putrich, 2015)
Several of the Dallas City Council members argued that the bag fee was government overreach. Several other council members argued that consumers were beginning to change shopping habits. The presence of the Plastic Bag Monster™ did not persuade council members.
The motion to repeal the 5-cent fee on plastic bags was passed by the City Council, 10-4 with council members Mike Rawlings, Tennell Atkins, Monica Alonzo, Adam Medrano, Vonciel Jones Hill, Rick Callahan, Sheffie Kadane, Jerry Allen, Lee Kleinman, and Jennifer Staubach Gates voting YES to repeal the bag fee. Council members Scott Griggs, Dwaine Caraway, Sandy Greyson, and Philip Kingston voted NO to keep the 5-cent bag fee in place. (Findell, 2015)
The companion motion to ban plastic grocery bags failed to pass the City Council by a vote of 9-6 with council members Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano, Dwaine Caraway, Lee Kleinman, Philip Kingston, and Carolyn Davis voting YES to ban plastic grocery bags and council members Mike Rawlings, Tennell Atkins, Monica Alonzo, Vonciel Jones Hill, Rick Callahan, Sheffie Kadane, Jerry Allen, Sandy Greyson, and Jennifer Staubach Gates to vote NO to keep plastic grocery bags. (Findell, 2015)
On Monday, 4 May, 2015 the Huntington Beach City Council voted 6 to 1 to finalize the repeal of the two year old ban on plastic bags and the mandatory 10-cent fee on paper bags. The repeal is effective on 3 June, 2015 when stores can again issue plastic carryout bags. (Carpio, 2015)
Council-members Mike Posey, Erik Peterson, Billy O’Connell, Barbara Delgleize, Dave Sullivan, and Jim Katapodis voted to finalize repeal the ordinance and Mayor Jill Hardy voted to keep the ban in place. (van Leeuwen, 2015)
According to Council-member Mike Posey, the plastic bag ban was never an environmental issue, but an issue of personal freedom. (Sharon, 2015)
On 20 January, 2015 the Huntington Beach City Council voted 6 to 1 to start the process of repealing the city’s plastic bag ban. Councilmembers Mike Posey, Erik Peterson, Billy O’Connell, Barbara Delgleize, Dave Sullivan, and Jim Katapodis voted to repeal the ordinance and Mayor Jill Hardy voted to keep the ban.
The agenda item that was voted on instructs the city manager to begin the repeal process including preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which is estimated to cost $5,000. The EIR is expected to take between two and three months to complete, and when completed, the issue will go back to council for final approval.
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.