One Small Bag Ban for Man, One Giant Bag Ban for Mankind - Pacific Standard

One Small Bag Ban for Man, One Giant Bag Ban for Mankind

In the United States, attempts to put an end to plastic bags have been a local affair. But that doesn't mean there aren't efforts for a national ban.
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(ILLUSTRATION: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

(ILLUSTRATION: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

Inspired by the movie Bag It! not so much to abandon plastic bags but to track the progress of plastic-bag legislation, I feel cheated to realize I missed the re-introduction of a bill to create a national plastic bag tax in the United States.

Congressman Jim Moran, a 12-term Democrat who represents a Beltway district in Virginia, on Earth Day introduced, again, his Trash Reduction Act, which would charge a five cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags used at grocery and retail checkout.

California continues to toy with the idea of a statewide plastic-bag ban, which would make more sense than the 56 or so municipal bans or taxes that now dot the state.

Moran’s legislation is modeled on Washington, D.C.’s nickel-a-bag tax, which Duke’s Dan Ariely described as "a behavioral economist’s dream" when it was enacted in 2010. Since then, the District has gone from using 22.6 million plastic bags a month to three million. And while a penny of every five cents the D.C. law raised went into a fund to clean up the Anacostia River, Moran’s bill would send four pennies into a “disposable carryout bag trust fund” to pay for land and water conservation; that fifth cent would go toward a bag recycling program.

All in all a laudable effort, unless you’re an affected merchant worried about paperwork headaches or Stephen Joseph, the attorney we told you about last September who is the public face of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition. Other nations, including that little-known eco-warrior China, have national bans. But there’s been little action on Moran’s bill this session, and when he introduced the same bill in the last session it died in committee, as had the 2009 version, known then as the Plastic Bag Reduction Act. Based on the lack of overt opposition, which is always a handy inverse barometer for determining a bill’s chance of passage, I’d guess this third time will not be a charm. Plus, getting any new fee or tax out of the House seems like a very uphill road.

At least this go-round he’s tripled the count of 2011’s co-sponsors; joining Eleanor Holmes Norton (who as D.C.’s delegate doesn’t even get a real vote outside of committee) this time are Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer and California’s John Garamendi. California, meanwhile, continues to toy with the idea of a statewide plastic-bag ban, which would make more sense than the 56 or so municipal bans or taxes that now dot the state. And efforts to tar re-usable bags as suspect (or at least somehow European), continue.

Ultimately, despite the city by city, or island by island in Hawaii’s case, to establish bag bans, I’m wondering if the real key to getting a handle on pollution from plastic lies in a different sort of regulatory approach: declaring plastic a hazardous waste.

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