Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fees for plastic bags vs. bans

Starting on June 1, grocery stores in my home-away-from-home will charge a 15-cent fee for the use of plastic grocery bags. This initiative (basically a Pigouvian tax on an activity that generates a negative externality) has been in the works for many years and after a lot of discussion and push-back appears to be finally happening.

This particular externality has many potential solutions. A tax or fee can be imposed on the use of bags, consumers can receive a subsidy for bringing their own bags or for recycling bags, or plastic bags can be banned outright. Each of these alternatives has pros and cons.

Many areas have banned plastic bags. Examples include the state of California, the Outer Banks of NC, Austin, TX and Seattle, WA.  Some places also have fees for paper bags. 

Are bans on plastic bags beneficial? Maybe. Like many things that appear simple, it is a complicated issue and there are no easy answers.

Here is a short article at Scientific American on the effectiveness of bag bans.

Here is a longer article at GreenLiving noting some of the important drawbacks and unintended consequences associated with bag bans.

Here is a summary of research from the University of New Hampshire on the costs and benefits of different approaches.   Importantly, the research shows that in some cases, bans might not be as good for the environment as initially thought.  When lightweight plastic bags are banned, people tend to substitute thicker bags, which are worse. 

5 comments:

Jacob Goetsch said...

This is very interesting indeed. I have thought countless times why such a tax hasn't existed. Personally I am glad to see this tax put into place. A lot of the times people either throw the bags away or on the street, serving no purpose outside of holding the bought groceries. Hopefully in the future this tax will rise and put plastic out and maybe make way for a new product. Plastic is deadly to animals and various other environmental goods.

Shanik Ramirez said...

I believe California was one of the first states to start charging .10 cents per plastic bag. I recall going back home last year and entering target, I saw people carrying out their items rather than carrying them in a plastic bag. I didn't know what was going on until I reached the cashier register and asked if I would like to purchase a plastic bag. I think it is a great way to get people thinking about the environment, but I also think that it won't truly stop people from throwing them into the streets etc.

Dillon Bass said...

Last summer I traveled to Europe for a month, and they enforced a tax on plastic bags. Customers were encouraged to bring their own bags or were required to pay a fee for a plastic bag. Throughout my time over there I noticed that all locals would bring their own heavy duty bags in order to carry their purchases. Even though the reusable bags are not as environmentally friendly as plastic bags, I believe that more people hold on to these bags for longer periods of time because they are more durable than plastic. Even though here in the US we don't charge a tax everywhere, I have noticed over the past five years that more Americans are starting to adopt this practice.

Shea Amdur said...

I think the plastic bag tax could be a good thing but in many states there have been bans on plastic bags that have not faired too well. The price to companies to not use the cheap plastic is quite large considering they use them with every purchase. I think that consumers would choose to use the bag that didnt come with a tax which would reduce the plastic bag usage but I dont think this is a viable option long term.

Andrew Riley said...

I believe the plastic bags should be taxed so much that the use of the plastic bag in stores would not be worth the tax cost. Eventually the tax could be so high that society has worked its way around it with re-usable bags. If the tax is high enough the citizens will want to save their money and change their ways.