CARS HOMES JOBS

More states weighing bans on plastic bags

Thursday, March 14, 2013
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This couldn’t be an original idea, could it?

Why not put a deposit on plastic shopping bags, akin to the one on bottled water and soda, to cut down on litter and encourage recycling?

“While the concept of a ‘deposit’ on single-use bags has been discussed, the Achilles’ heel for this approach is the fact that it costs less than 2 cents to produce a plastic bag,” says Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a reduction/re-use advocate.

“Assuming that a deposit was 5 cents or more, it would be relatively easy to purchase bags at 2 cents and redeem them for a deposit at a huge profit,” he explains.

Darn! And here I thought I might be on to something.

What got me thinking about the bags was the story last week on a petition drive in Saratoga Springs to ban their use in stores in the city. Finding ways to corral the bags so they don’t clog landfills or litter landscapes is an ongoing concern in states and municipalities around the country — and the world, too.

In California, 68 cities and counties have adopted ordinances banning the use of so-called single-use plastic bags — the kind that carry purchases home from supermarkets and drugstores. Still, those local laws cover only about 16 percent of the state’s population, according to estimates from Murray’s group, which is pushing the California legislature for a statewide ban.

To date, no statewide ban or tax on plastic bags has been enacted in this country, says Douglas Shinkle, senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides research and technical assistance to state lawmakers.

But that soon could change: At least 13 states have legislation pending this year that would ban or assess a tax on plastic bag use, according to Shinkle’s latest count. “It’s the most I’ve seen,” he said of the bills.

New York is among the 13, with a handful of one-house bills that have been introduced before but went nowhere in previous legislative sessions. One bill proposes a 15-cent tax on each bag handed out at the register; another sets the levy at 5 cents.

(Since 2009, New York has required that large retailers take back the plastic bags they’ve used for purchases and recycle the returned bags; a pending bill would expand that mandate to smaller retailers in New York City.) Shinkle said he was unaware of any state contemplating a deposit on the bags similar to the bottle bills passed in the 1980s that cut down on roadside litter. Efforts in some states to expand the deposit to other bottled beverages — such as teas, juices and sports drinks — have been less successful.

Shinkle also was unaware of any federal legislation that would make bag bans or taxes a national issue.

Many of the states contemplating statewide bans or taxes have coastlines — and wildlife — that are seen as needing protection from littered bags. In Maryland, for instance, a 5-cent bag tax has been introduced that would assist cleanup efforts in the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River.

“Legislatures are hearing from constituents” on the issue, Shinkle said, leading him to think that this could be the year some local ordinances go statewide.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at marlenejkennedy@gmail.com.

 
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