Apr 15 - There's No Free Bag

On Monday, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee passed out CAW sponsored Assembly Bill 2058 by Assembly Member Lloyd Levine. This measure builds on the Levine initiated existing effort to reduce the use of one-time use plastic shopping bags in California.

AB 2058 would set a goal of 70 percent waste reduction for plastic bags and require retailers to charge an "advance disposal fee" of not less than 15 cents per bag if waste reduction benchmarks are not achieved.

Opponents of the measure, representing plastic bag producers and large retail chains, argued that policy would increase costs to consumers. However, even a cursory examination of the facts indicates that a successful bag reduction strategy-even one that employs a per bag charge to motivate reuse-will result in a substantial net savings to California consumers and taxpayers.

It's reported that California uses about 19 billion plastic and 3.8 billion paper bags annually. The cost to retailers of providing these 'free' bags to consumers is about $680 million annually, and, like other overhead costs, is passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices on the products we buy. And it doesn't matter whether you're a consumer that always brings your own bag, or one that insists on doubling up on the plastic-we all eventually pay.

But the costs don't stop there. The cost of managing and cleaning up the more than 95 percent of one-time use plastic bags that become litter or are landfilled is generally borne by local governments and ultimately us as taxpayers. An analysis of these costs by the San Francisco Department of the Environment found that the cost burden in that city was approximately 17 cents per bag. Extrapolating those costs out for the entire state, and the total costs to local government and tax payers for managing plastic bag litter and waste is in excess of $3.2 billion annually (as Assembly Member Levine would say, that's billion with a b).

All told, the 'free' one-time use bag is actually costing in excess of $300 per household annually in higher costs and taxes. Even the moderately successful goal of 70 percent reduction (Ireland achieved 90 percent reduction when they embraced the advance disposal fee approach), and employing a 15 cent per bag fee for consumer that forget their bag, California would experience a nearly 50 percent reduction in bag related costs-or $1.7 billion annually.

As always, I welcome your comments.