Environment Forum

Paper or plastic? Oh, and 25 cents please!

April 14, 2009

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)

Comments
42 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I do share the concern that Chuck DeFore has with the hygienic issue where the clients put their FILTHY AND BACTERIUM reusable bags on the counters. THIS RIDICULOUS IDEA SHOULD NOT ALLOW THIS UNHYGIENCE PRACTICE. ON THE WHOLE DAY THE ACCUMULATED BACTERIUM WILL MULTIPLY AND GET ON THE FOOD AND THE PRODUCE. THE FOOD WILL BRING BACTERIUM TO THE KITCHEN COUNTER. WHO WANTS A BACTERIUM SALAD!?!

Posted by Tiffany | Report as abusive
 

“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.

Do get a grip on reality here! There are lots of countries where bags cost you, hence you bring your own: Ireland, Germany etc. I have yet to hear that anyone died of salmonella poisoning there, induced by a dirty shopping bag, though. If you’re so concerned about germs, get a stack of reusable bags made of cotton and wash them every time you’ve bought perishables.

Posted by Aillil | Report as abusive
 

I like This Idea It’s Keep Control for Single Users

 

As is typical of the right in the USA everytime some small environmental legislation is discussed, DeVore argues against it without knowing the simple workarounds that basically shoot down his objections and make him sound like he thinks every American is too busy, dense, or lazy to understand simple ways around his objections.

At least here in Europe we’ve done this for some time now, without mass breakouts of salmonella ( /facepalm) or huge arguments about cost and we DO recycle, whether directly, or indirectly in that many of us also re-use bags as garbage containers, laundry bags, or if the bags were kept clean, additional shopping.

Most grocery stores will NOT put “chicken or some meat” into these bags without additional protection, if they are in any way likely to be exposed to other contents anwyay. This additional protection is usually a very thin, plastic biodegradeable bag that is provided without extra cost to the customer.

2-3 dollars extra with any trip is only the case if the family never re-uses bags, or never brings their own higher quality “permanent” shopping bags – something quite commonplace here. If liquids or mess is a concern, again, the thin filmy bags are provided to us, but in most cases we just use common sense and put appropriate goods into the canvas bags and save anything wet or otherwise mucky for the grocery bag. 2-3 dollars ends up most likely to be 25-50 cents if people just remember to BRING THEIR OWN.

Also, if Americans really want to avoid the fees, then since most people there have cars, they also have the option of simply keeping a laundry basket or two in the trunk, checking out without ANY bags – and simply unloading the shopping cart directly into the car before leaving.

Its not like its rocket science. Honestly.

Posted by KMD | Report as abusive
 

With paper bags we had a green, renewable, recycleable and reusable resource, then we were told plastic was better. I want my old brown paper bags back. I do leatherworking as a hobby. The paper bags were great for making patterns.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive
 

Salmonella? Really? That’s your argument against this? Like the FDA has been doing a great job of keeping it out of the food anyway? The truth is, meat is wrapped in plastic already. You’re not throwing a raw chicken in your shopping bag, the chicken is packaged. As are all the other food items people purchase. People are lazy. If they had financial incentive, they would be less lazy.

Posted by Jon | Report as abusive
 

Assemblyman Devore demonstrates his true stupidity with his comments. I have been using reusable bags for over a year, with no ill results. When they get dirty, they are tossed into the washing machine and are good to go afterwards.

We need to get away from the ecologically disasterous no deposit-no return mentality. As far as I am concerned, all containers, can or bottle, should require a deposit to be paid, whether they be canned goods, 12oz aluminum cans, plastic water bottles, 1-quart oil bottles, or detergent bottles. A uniform 5-10 cent deposit would suffice. Return facilities would then be set up in Supermarket or mall parking areas.

States like Michigan which have a deposit on beverage cans and bottles have much less litter to contend with. The same principle would apply should grocery shoppers be required to pay for their plastic or paper bags. Buy reusable bags once and one will not have to pay anything afterwards until the bags wear out. The amount of trash and litter would decline greatly.

Posted by John H | Report as abusive
 

Sounds like a nationwide project, make it .25, I am in no way a ‘GREEN’ person but I do take my own bags to the store, OK so they are .99 big deal, I think everyone should do it. and provide the bags for the lower income folks, but require them to use them, not say oh I forgot them..

Posted by Dave Reuterman | Report as abusive
 

Yes, this has been done in Denmark with great success.

It’s really a no-brainer, and should not be waived for low-income people. All Americans should be treated equally.

Posted by Aunt Ralph | Report as abusive
 

What about Fast Food bags? They may not be plastic, but there must be more of them. Their own sign “Over One Billion sold”… McDonalds reports that they sell over 550 Million Big Macs each year.

I think it is illegal short sighted by California to single out one industry. And then to allow some people to skip the fee. Why doesn’t California just buy everyone a hemp and sisal bag and outlaw all other bags?

Posted by Peter | Report as abusive
 

Why not combine both ideas and have a WIN WIN situation??
Have people pay the 25 cents if they want a new bag!
And if some one comes in with a bag ,have the store recycle that bag with an exchange
policy for a new bag free of charge
And be given in fact a new bag to use for the groceries.
This way there’s no chance of contamination from a old bag.(a real possibility )
The old bags get to be recycle one ,There’s less garbage from plastic bags two. … and some kid will probably get a job after school three.
Doing this work for the store!
SOUNDS GOOD TO ME

Posted by Del | Report as abusive
 

I think this is a good idea. While we are at it, why not institute a federal ban on tobacco as well? It’s not only the plastic bag that has become a national flower. Smokers should be fined $1000 for discarding cigarette butts in inappropriate places.

Posted by John Gabriel | Report as abusive
 

Just another tax. Bring your reusable bags, baskets, whatever. We can all encourage reuse, recycle. Lets just keep the govt. out of our pockets. (

Posted by John | Report as abusive
 

So?? Parts of Europe have been doing that for years. Good idea. The last time I was in Austria and went to the grocery store, on check-out, the cashier said, “where is your bag”. I don’t have one, I said. “I will sell you a re-usable bag then, and she did.

Wake up, USA, the time has arrived.

Posted by Billy | Report as abusive
 

…unless you figure a way to wash those bags every time, you will have salmonella in those natural fibers

Such as setting them in the sunlight?

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive
 

Taxpayers are already paying for the clean-up of bags, it is more appropriate to shift that burden to those who use the most bags. Additionally, the cost of the bags is payed by all shoppers, in the form of increased prices. It just makes more sense for people to pay for what they use.

As for the argument that it would cause health problems; I live in Sweden, we are charged about $0.13 for bags, it has not caused this problem.

Posted by Shea | Report as abusive
 

While we are at it, let’s talk about litter. In Germany, the highways are spotless. I asked someone if the had litter crews around the clock. Their reply was “No, why would you throw something out that you have to pay someone else to pick up.”

Think on it! The USA spends millions on trash pickup on the highways. Yep, we are so ahead of the world. NOT

Posted by Billy | Report as abusive
 

This has been trialled in parts of Australia, at 10 cents per bag. Oddly, no more was heard after the trial, so perhaps it went badly?

Personally, every bag gets reused several times, for carrying/storing stuff, and finally as garbage bags. Any bag that gets damaged/dirty and is thrown out empty is tied into a knot, to prevent it being blown away. Overall, I feel the standard plastic bags are far less of an environmental problem when used this way than are the 99 cent heavy-duty woven reusable plastic bags, which don’t have a terribly long lifespan, and take much longer to degrade.

Posted by Fulvio | Report as abusive
 

Tiffany, did you ever hear of the words “washing machine”?

Throw the re-usable bags in with a little bleach, voila.
The have been using them in Europe for years.

Posted by Billy | Report as abusive
 

Yes let’s rely on the government to tax us to control us. Why not simply propose to the store that they get to give a discount to consumers that use their own bags. They can raise their rate just a little for consumers that want a bag. And they also make a savings because they don’t have to give out bags. The free market has an answer to this, you don’t need to rely on Taxation as a enforcement policy. We are taxed enough, don’t let your shortsightedness allow the government to get in your shopping bag too.

Posted by n8 | Report as abusive
 

If you read the bill carefully, it would exempt produce bags and other bags used to transport meat or other products to the cashier. So the health concern that Mr. DeVore is raising is not an issue. The practice is currently underway in Ireland.

Posted by Susan D | Report as abusive
 

Apparently, Mr. DeVore – a rich Republican – has never gone grocery shopping. They don’t throw the raw meat directly into the bag, Sir. It is packaged, then you bag it at the meat counter before you take it to the cashier. Trying to “figure a way” to wash those reusable bags each week isn’t difficult to accomplish either. It’s called laundry. Mr. DeVore, ask your housekeeper to explain all of this to you.

 

Yes plastic isn’t biodegradeable, but neither is a paper bag, or even a hot dog in a landfill. Paper bags take 10 times more energy to make than plastic, 3 times more water, and take up more space than a plastic bag in a landfill. The amount of fossil fuels used to make the plastic in a bag is roughly equal to the amount of fuel burned just to generate the electricity used to make a paper bag. Now add in the chemicals used to bleach the paper, the lye to break down the fiber, the steam used to press the paper- and suddenly you’ll realize how much greener plastic is than paper. Paper breaks down in the environment leaching out these chemicals, but plastic is just as recycleable in 500 years as it is today- it just has to be picked up. Don’t be persuaded that this is a “green” initiative- it’s just a tax on a product that they know we will pay for the convenience of using it.

Posted by Mr. Smith | Report as abusive
 

Simple solutions to the meat juices leaking…

1) Don’t buy meat – that’s another environmental problem. I haven’t purchased meat in years now. I will eat meat if that’s the only choice when eating out, but I won’t generally purchase it — short of semi vegitarian.

2) As the law states, bags used to transport produce to cashier are not included.

3) In last resort if there is still a leak. Wash it! Or does the Republican assemblyman (Chuck DeVore) not wash his clothes? A fabric bag can be washed with clothes, after all the clothes are made out of fabric too! Worst case rinse first and wash with dirty jeans. Of course, then dry on washing line – not energy hog clothes drier.

4) If you buy a lot of meat, reserve one or two fabric bags for meat and wash them regularly when you wash your clothes. Just in case there was an unnoticed spill.

5) If you buy a lot of meat, use a tough reusable plastic bag, and turn it in side out and clean it like you clean your kitchen surfaces. I guess the Republican assemblyman (Chuck DeVore) does not clean his kitchen surfaces either.

I you are worried about people that bring their filthy bags into the store, well just think about how many of them haven’t washed their hands after using the bathroom either, and have then been pawing the fruit! Sorry, there’s no getting away from unhygienic people.

Republican assemblyman – Chuck DeVore: what lame excuses, you should be out of a job because you have no imagination for solutions.

 

Mr. DeVore hopes to scare people with the ridiculous statement regarding health.

California, “seeking to be a trendsetter,” is at least 15 years behind the EU. Grocery shoppers in Europe have brought their own bags for years and no one seems the worse for it. It’s high time we stepped up to our responsibility.

Posted by Lisa | Report as abusive
 

This is an idea that has been catching fire in Canada for the past couple of years at least. Loblaws, one of our largest grocery chains, is about to start charging consumers for plastic bags, except for those used to wrap meat and produce. Myself, I shop almost exclusively at a Loblaws that doesn’t provide plastic bags at all and the place is always packed. Cosco been doing it for years and no one has ever said a peep? Not sure why there would be a controversy over something that is clearly so beneficial to the planet. And yes, just bleach the things if your worried about salmonella.
Angela B.

Posted by Angela Brewster | Report as abusive
 

Some stores give me a 5c discount when I bring my own bag, which I always do.
I don’t think individual stores are brave enough to charge 25c for a bag, fearing customers may not buy anything. As they state in the article, 25c has MUCH more oomph than 5c.
Some countries have a law which disallows clerks from proactively providing a bag. The customer has to ask for it. I think it’s pretty clever because it lowers the temptation for when people buy, say, just one bottle of drink.

Posted by Shawn | Report as abusive
 

“Throw the re-usable bags in with a little bleach, voila.
The have been using them in Europe for years.”

Yikes… bleach!!?? Why bother debating plastic vs paper at all if you put BLEACH in your water..

Round and round we go, flouride in the drinking water, bleach in the wash water…

I like the Irish initiative!

Posted by windy spirit | Report as abusive
 

Has anyone noticed that people who shop at Costco are more likely to be ill? — no
Has anyone noticed that Ireland has had more cases of illness since they introduced a similar law? — no

If Chuck DeVore thinks that enough of his constituents have an IQ less than people who shop at Costco or in Ireland, then maybe the suggestion should be to provide a public information leaflet with the reusable bags.

Another “solution” might be to conscript people into town cleaning crews. 1 day of mandatory service per year, with all the savings from not paying for cleanup crews, Chuck can enact a tax cut ;-)

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive
 

Chuck DeVore is a dork and no he’s not rich he’s just a big windbag. In fact he complains and crys all the time on his twitter and facebook about how he’s not rich enough to run for office even though he’s run 7 times and has a 3-4 loser’s record. And while he opposes this small fee on wastful over bagging (ever been to Ralph’s and get a bag for a bottle or box that has a handle, duh?) to provide the means to clean up California (Sacramento’s Capital Mall is a pigstye). But he want’s to drill off shore because it is so clean and safe. He also wants to build a bunch of nuclear power plants even though we have 166K tons of waste in 39 states at 120 locations because it is so much cleaner. Chuck DeVore is not representive of most Republicans. Just his creepy lynch crew who served as extras in the Child’s Play movies. Hi, I’m Chucky and I’m your friend for a life. He’s like that childish toy that turns into a nightmare.

Posted by CA republican with sense | Report as abusive
 

no way can we expect people to take ANY personal responsibility for their own health and safety or that of their family!
following this meat juice logic, we should be able to sue the grocery store when the meat gets on our counter at home anyway!!!
what nonsense!

Posted by Shai | Report as abusive
 

Tax me some more, please! I worked till April 13th to pay my federal taxes. I will work till June 1st to pay my state taxes. I will work till July to pay my county taxes and then I can start on the taxes in my township, my sales taxes, car license plates, inspection stickers, and every other damn tax. Yeah, working till October for someone else gives me three months of my own money every year. So, hell yes! Tax me on bags in the grocery store, please.

 

windy spirit, I have news for you. Bleach is harmless. Google bleach in wash water, and everyone from milk plants to etc. does it. I wouldn’t advise drinking it straight from the container, but maybe I would for people who are not in the know.

Posted by Billy | Report as abusive
 

Quote: “Yikes… bleach!!?? Why bother debating plastic vs paper at all if you put BLEACH in your water..”

LOL. I’m NOT debating paper vs. plastic. In Europe, they are using cloth bags. Goodness, what do you think of the hundreds of cities located on rivers that dump their sewage in those rivers, and then cities below them use the same for their drinking water. Think on it, and then go hug a tree.

Posted by Billy | Report as abusive
 

“Yes let’s rely on the government to tax us to control us. Why not simply propose to the store that they get to give a discount to consumers that use their own bags. They can raise their rate just a little for consumers that want a bag. And they also make a savings because they don’t have to give out bags. The free market has an answer to this, you don’t need to rely on Taxation as a enforcement policy. We are taxed enough, don’t let your shortsightedness allow the government to get in your shopping bag too.”
- Posted by n8

The “free market” that you mention could have done this years ago. There is no law that says they couldn’t and yet they haven’t (except for Costco and a few other smaller stores and chains). Nope … without a hot poker on the end of that cattle prod, don’t rely on corporate America to do what’s best for the economy because it won’t happen unless they can make another buck. Thankfully we have the Europeans to follow in terms of an environmental lead on plastic bags, small cars, …

Posted by SHAWN | Report as abusive
 

DeVore is an idiot. In the 50′s and earlier we always used our own shopping bags, over and over and over. Of course the chickens were not frozen any more than was the beef or pork and dammit I’m here 50 years later to testify!

why charge for the bags, just give a discount of 25c for every bag saved…surely that is not too much math!

Posted by Drake | Report as abusive
 

I’m amazed that so many people are complicit with this type of government control over their lives! What happened to freedom? We’re now into micro-management of our lives down to the types of bags we use? We are already way over taxed, with most of that money being wasted and mismanaged. You think 25 cents per plastic bag is going to help anyone? NO! You sheeple are brainswashed. What’s next? 5 cents added to your bill for every paper napkin? 5 cents for plastic packs of ketchup? I could go on, but I don’t want to give the governemt drones any ideas. Rediculous.

Posted by DT | Report as abusive
 

What was done before plastic? How did people keep from getting sick from meat juices before the FDA?

Kosher…..

Posted by dennis | Report as abusive
 

If I believed that Americans were smart enough to replace their wasteful ways by themselves, I would be opposed to this idea. However, since so many Americans are ignorant and lazy, this is a great idea. Those who are just too stupid to catch up to the rest of the developed world can pay for it.

Posted by Shaleina | Report as abusive
 

People, this is not a “bag” problem. DeVore has a lot of credibility here. But let’s face it, if we just control our habits this issue of a bag tax would be removed. We can’t begin to sit here and blame a bag for the worlds problem. Litter is a personal issue not a production issue.

Drive anywhere, you’ll see cups, cigarettes, cans, glass etc. Are we truly going to begin “taxing” and/or “banning” all these types of products, no–get real.

This is another sorry attempt to help scratch away at a debt that our elected officials caused.

Don’t let them fool you.

Posted by Earth Sense | Report as abusive
 

Why would you waive the fee for “some” low income Californians.What about low income visitors?

Posted by edo | Report as abusive
 

Twenty five cents for a paper or plastic bag is nothing! Find something more important to complain about – like all the plastic that is littering our shores and oceans, killing fish and whales. If you don’t want to pay, simply bring your own bag – that’s what this is about anyway – to help us all be more responsible.

Posted by Lynda Sayre | Report as abusive
 

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