Nothing solves a problem so efficiently well as taxing it. Just look for what it’s done to eliminate smoking, for example.
Sarcasm aside, the latest public relations campaign to cross the news desk here is about plastic bags: awareness on the international problem of plastic waste, and efforts to reduce that through banning and/or taxing their use.
According to the study provided through ReuseThisBag.com, a 22-cent bag tax has reduced usage by as much as 90 percent in Ireland, and plastic waste has dropped up to 80 percent in China as a result of a full ban. Domestically, municipal bans have resulted in residential (48 percent) and commercial (76 percent) waste in Seattle, and savings of up to $600,000 per year in plastic processing fees in San Francisco.
Idaho, the study notes in its implied rebuke, is one of 10 states that has placed laws against regulating plastic bags.
Taking these results at face value, it does appear such efforts are working to reduce plastic waste, which truly is a serious solid waste problem that highlights one of the worst aspects of our throwaway society.
But is yet another tax the best solution? This is a penalty upon the consumer, who is economically extorted to forego plastic bag use. More than likely, usage will be impacted in the short run, but long term, consumers will just eat the few bucks in tax at checkout; they will adjust and accept the tax as yet another cost of doing business.
And what happens to those collected taxes? At city or state levels, this new money can’t address the national or international problem, so its impact is regional, at best. That is, if it’s directed into solid waste efforts regarding plastic and not just absorbed into the general fund for redistribution to wherever the political whims are of the moment.
Enough of the stick approach, try the carrot.
Retailers should receive tax breaks for reducing their plastic bag consumption, providing them the incentive to encourage their customers to use alternatives, whether reusable bags or paper. Tax incentives should be provided to plastic bag manufacturers to innovate toward truly biodegradable products or transition into environmentally friendly alternatives.
While the underlying comment here in taxation and bans is plastics manufacturers are the bad guys, they aren’t; they’ve provided the market a cheap, durable and convenient option for consumers to transport their goods home from market.
Outright bans economically threaten this legitimate industry and its employees, whereas incentives allow them the choice to adjust and transition.
Taxation doesn’t incentivize innovation or long-term positive change to reduce and move away from such usage. Rather, it remains “business as usual” and those additional financial burdens are folded into plastic bag production that are passed along for retailers and consumers to absorb. The end result is yet another increase in the cost of living and the growing sea of waste plastic continues to amass.