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Friday, June 11, 2010

Plastic or Canvas? Tax Or Ban? California AB 1998

AB 1998 would, with some exceptions, prohibit certain stores from providing single-use bags to customers, after 2011. The goal is to reduce both paper and plastic bag usage and get people using reusable bags.

Erik Assadourian of The Worldwatch Institute has an op-ed which raises a good question - "To Ban or to Tax: That is the Only Question" (6/9/10).

I think it would be better to impose a tax on disposable bags. The benefits of that approach include:

  • California needs the money.
  • Consumers can decide if they want to pay for a bag or use a reusable one.
  • An enforcement mechanism is not needed because the bag tax could be collected along with sales tax and bottle/can deposits that these sellers already collect.
  • It would mean fewer plastic bags many of which become litter. In addition they do use up natural resources to produce.

The op ed notes that DC's 5 cent per bag tax which started in 2010 has reduced the use of plastic bags from 22.5 million/month to 3 million/month. That is impressive.

While some might argue that it is not the role of the government to address how customers haul their goods home, that is not true. The government incurs a great deal of the cost of cleaning up plastic bags and disposing of them in landfills. Also, because they do use up natural resources to produce, we all should have a say in protecting these resources.

A polluter pays tax is an appropriate solution. And, the revenue can be used not only to help reduce the state's budget deficit, but to reduce some other tax, such as the sales tax.

But, a structural problem in California is likely what is preventing AB 1998 from taking the better approach of imposing a tax on disposable bags. That challenge is the 2/3 vote requirement to create or increase a tax. So, the best solution is ignored - too bad for the state budget and consumers.

What do you think?

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