Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, August 08, 2008

"Market will solve plastic bag issue "

The editorial board of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News agrees with Pullman Consumers for Choice: let the free market decide what's best on plastic bags, not the nanny state.

From today's Daily News:
Both sides of the plastic grocery bag issue make valid points.

A Pullman group has proposed the city adopt a 20-cent tax or fee on each new bag used for groceries and other retail purchases.

The theory behind the tax is that 20 cents is enough to make consumers think twice about requesting a plastic bag.

The group hopes the converted customers will opt for reusable, environmentally friendly bags to hold purchases.

The other group, the so-called Pullman Consumers for Choice, is opposed to the tax on the grounds that it would hurt low-income residents as well as the local economy because consumers would shop outside Pullman.

Both arguments make sense.

But we've learned that morality can't be legislated and doing nothing won't solve the problem.

Plastic bags, due to their omnipresence, are a problem. They blow into bushes, trees and across yards and parking lots. Most do not readily biodegrade, and they take energy to create.

Carry enough of the bags and the handles can pinch nerves in the hands and fingers. The bags can't hold too much weight and they easily tear.

But that's no reason to tax them.

The answer is to let the market make the choices. Those choices can be greatly influenced by the customer.

Stores use plastic bags because of the convenience, cost and customer choice.

Many stores now offer incentives for alternatives. Most refund a few cents for every reusable bag the customer uses. Some even offer reusable bags at discount prices - usually less than $1 - or for free to encourage customers to switch.

It may take a little longer, but the market is amazingly adaptable if consumers voice their concerns. The process is more user-friendly than a tax or turning your back on the problem.

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