Baltimore Plastic Bag Tax

Polluters Win On Baltimore Plastic Bag Tax

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted March 18, 2010

plastic bagPolluters in Baltimore breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after the Baltimore City Council balked on any meaningful legislation that would reduce the use of plastic bags in the city. You know, the ones that decorate skeleton trees in the winter and float on the black glassy reflections of the Inner Harbor.

Not only have these plastic bags sucked a bit of the aesthetic charm out of Charm City, they also maintain an economic burden on the city, as removing these plastic bags from our water ways is not a free service offered by those who hand them out like paper towels at the grocery check out.

There was a proposal to charge consumers $0.25 per bag. But that was shot down. Instead the City is demanding the following:

  • Stores can only give plastic bags out if they participate in a program aimed at reducing the number of bags on the streets. Fines for noncompliance would range from $100 to $1,000. I'd be interested to know how often these stores would be checked. I suspect that if a store gets hit with a yearly bill for anywhere between $100 and $1,000, nothing will change.

  • Customers will only get plastic bags if they ask for them. That really adds a lot of bite to the bark of this poodle.

  • Retailers have to collect plastic bags and recycle them. Of course, there is nothing that would require customers or incentivize customers to actually bring them in to be recycled. And by the way, according to the EPA, only about 1 percent of all plastic bags in this country are recycled anyway. So perhaps we should ask ourselves, does it make more sense to require plastic bag recycling or just get rid of the bags altogether?

  • Retailers must also post signs encouraging customer to use reusable bags. Well, we all know how well signs work to encourage people in this city. Those "Drug-Free Zone" signs have really done a bang-up job.

  • Retailers must report back to the city on how many plastic bags they've distributed. Yeah, those numbers won't be distorted. Because clearly, the retailers who have fought quite effectively against plastic bag bans and taxes are going to provide the city with accurate data.

Now don't get me wrong. I know that there are some folks on the City Council who have worked tirelessly to help clean up this city. And I applaud them. But clearly the lobbyists have won at slowing the progress on curbing plastic bag pollution. And you better believe that over the next year, they're going to go full force trying to convince us that plastic bag taxes are a bad idea.

But I'd prefer to look at the data, and ignore the rhetoric.

I'd prefer to look at Ireland, where a $0.30 plastic bag tax was passed back in 2002. Within weeks of the new tax, there was a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use. And for those who did shell out the thirty cents - about $9.6 million was raised and earmarked for a green fund.

And in China, after a ban on super thin plastic bags was introduced, plastic bag usage fell by 66 percent and saved the Middle Kingdom 1.6 million tons of petroleum. Because yes, all those wonderful plastic bags are made with petroleum. Want to cut our use of foreign oil? Stop using so many damn plastic bags!

Of course, I'm not so naïve to believe that this is an easy fight. The resistance has been strong. And the truth is, if you want to get anything accomplished in this world, you do have to make compromises. But how much longer can we "compromise" on this stuff?

These plastic bags have become an environmental and economic burden that no one seems to be willing to pay. So the way I see it, if you can't pay for something, then you can't have it.

It's not rocket science.

It's a basic concept you learn as a child. And it's a basic concept that we better start remembering soon.

Although you're given these bags at your local grocery store, they are NOT free.

There is a cost associated with these things. You may not be paying for them at the checkout now, but rest assured, your tax dollars pay to get them out of the trees and out of the harbor. Your tax dollars pay to move them and dump them in the landfills.  Your tax dollars continue to subsidize the oil industry too, which makes a pretty penny off of our irrational reliance on these plastic bags.

Just something to think about the next time the cashier at your local supermarket offers you a plastic bag for a gallon jug of milk or a candy bar!

To a new way of life, and a new generation of wealth. . .

jeff signature