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June 17, 2009

Those Plastic Bag Bans

COMPROMISES KEEP BANS AT BAY, FOR NOW: Plastic bag makers and their polyethylene suppliers can take a quick breath. With the exception of Washington, DC, and Edmonds, Washington, most of the U.S. communities that considered fees and bans this year have rejected them. That includes some major victories. As of this writing, the California Legislature appears to have tabled a proposal to put a 25¢ fee on single-use bags. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped his plan for a 6¢ fee -- his proposal was aimed more at generating revenue in a city hit hard by the collapse of the banking industry. And Philadelphia rejected a 25¢ fee, too. It's a good sign that communities desperate for tax revenue are turning away from bag taxes. This year, at least, bag makers have been able to fight the bans with a combination of responses: (1) a promise to recycle. Bag companies have been scurrying to set up and improve the scanty bag-recycling infrastructure; (2) a promise to use recycled content. The Progressive Bag Affiliates in April set a goal to use 40% recycled content in their bags by 2015. It was a major commitment, and no doubt it will have an impact, especially in the next few years -- assuming PBA's members can make rapid progress; (3) a reminder that bag fees are a tax on groceries -- a regressive tax that the growing ranks of unemployed Americans can ill afford; and (5) producer responsibility proposals that are more acceptable to bag producers. But remember, this is only a quick breath. Bag taxes and bans aren't going away. The industry still has to deal with a few this year. Sacramento County is considering a ban, and Seattle citizens will vote in August on a proposal to tax carryout bags. Don't be surprised if more taxes and bans pop up around the country. And even more likely will be additional proposals in Canada. Toronto implemented a 10¢-per-bag tax June 1st, and more communities are likely to follow suit. Bag taxes and bans have not been the top priority of the mainstream environmental movement, which is spending more energy on fighting global warming. But plastic bags will continue to be an easy target in coastal communities, especially in California. Legislators will be tempted again to levy taxes on bags once the economy improves. The bottom line is that bag companies will need to redouble their efforts to keep the promises they've made this year in order to hold back the tide against more taxes and bans next year. Plastics News, 06/08/09, p. 6.



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