Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, August 25, 2008

California Goes Over To The Dark Side

California is about to slap a 25 cent per bag tax on plastic grocery bags, with the support of grocery chains, who see it as a cost cutting measure.

The plastic grocery bag is fighting for its crinkly life.

From the city of San Francisco to Los Angeles County, more than a dozen local governments around the state have proposed or passed plastic-bag restrictions, ranging from recycling mandates to outright bans.

Now, a proposal in the Legislature would put a 25-cent fee on all disposable bags – paper or plastic – given out at drug and grocery store check stands starting Jan. 1, 2010. It has won key support from the grocery and retail industries and faces its next legislative step today.

Those in favor of the fee, led by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, and a collection of environmental groups, point to dirty oceans, sewers fouled with plastic and millions of dollars in litter-cleanup costs. Opponents – mainly bag-industry and taxpayer organizations – say plastic bags draw more blame than they deserve and the fee would be a burden on consumers.

"People have completely lost their perspective," said Stephen Joseph, a Tiburon lawyer who runs savetheplasticbag.com, an industry group.

Both sides expect a fee would drive shoppers to switch to reusable bags. After Ireland imposed a fee on plastic checkout-counter bags in 2002, their use dropped by about 90 percent.

About 80 percent of bags given out in the state's supermarkets are plastic, according to Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group.

Winning over grocers

Powerful grocery and retail industry groups objected to an early version of the proposal that put a fee only on plastic bags. They worried that stores would be pressured to switch to paper bags, which cost about 8 cents each vs. about 1.5 cents for a plastic bag.

Now that the measure – Assembly Bill 2769 – covers both paper and plastic, though, grocers are behind it.

Big supermarket and drugstore chains would rather have a single statewide standard than a growing number of local regulations. Also, doing away with free bags could save them money.

Checkout-counter sacks cost supermarkets on the order of $1,500 to $6,000 a month, according to bag makers. That's a considerable expense in a business where the median monthly profit, after taxes, is about $30,000 per store, according to data from the Food Marketing Institute.


April E. Coggins said...

"Under the proposal, stores would get a 5-cent to 10-cent cut of any bag fees collected."

This is how law makers buy off industry. They share in the loot.
Washington state has a few fees like this. Also notice, HEAVIER plastic bags are exempt because they MIGHT be reused. So now there will be more heavy weight bags, fewer light weight bags and a bigger mess than ever.

Tom Forbes said...

I have heard that this particular proposal is DOA in the California legislature.

Michael said...

I just received that story this morning from the Sacramento Bee.

It might be a good way to change the majority party in the California legislature.

Michael said...

Who really believes that the revenue taken in by the state would be used as they say, for litter cleanup. Just like the tobacco tax, the money will go end up in the general fund to be squandered like the rest of the budget.

Paul E. Zimmerman, M.A. said...

I have a feeling the "reusable bag" craze it going to bite many retailers on the butt.

"No, honest. That T-bone was in my bag when I came in here!"

Wonder how much more we'll all end up paying to make up for theft?

April E. Coggins said...

Reusable canvas bag = womans purse.