Paper or plastic? Oh, and 25 cents please!
California, always seeking to be a trendsetter on environmental policy, is weighing a proposal to charge 25 cents for every paper or plastic bag distributed at grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores. The money raised would go into a state fund used to clean up trash and prevent litter related to what the bill calls “single-use” bags.
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, says 25 cents a bag is high enough to have a real impact on consumer behavior. The fee would be waived for some low-income Californians.
The idea, of course, is to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags to the supermarket. Brownley argues that a similar program in Ireland has been a success, reducing plastic bag litter by more than 90 percent.
The bill’s other aim is to help the state offset the $25 million a year it spends to clean up plastic bag waste. Municipalities spend $300 million, Brownley says.
Chuck DeVore, a Republican assemblyman from Orange County, said the idea is “just one of a sorry series of tax increases that the Democrats are trying to foist on the working people of California.”
DeVore said the bag charge would add $2 to $3 to the bill every time a family goes to the store. And if that family brings along reusable bags, that can be a health hazard.
“If you buy some chicken or some meat, unless you figure a way to wash those bags every time, you will have salmonella in those natural fibers,” DeVore said.
Currently, retailers in California are required to set up in-store recycling programs for used bags. Brownley, however, says preliminary results show there has only been a negligible increase in bag recycling since that law went into effect.
But how realistic is it to push through a bill during a recession that will effectively make consumers pay more at the grocery store? Would such a law prompt you to break out those reusable bags once and for all?
DeVore says he expects the bill to pass the Assembly and land on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall; photo by Brendan McDermid, Reuters)