A tax on plastic bags

Should Minnesota impose a 5-cent tax on plastic bags? A bill creating one was filed today at the Capitol in St. Paul.

Under Rep. Karen Clark’s bill, the retailer keeps a penny of the tax, and two pennies if the store allows customers to bring plastic bags back for a 5-cent credit. Basically, it’s a bottle-bill for bags.

Here’s the salient part of the bill :

Disposable carryout bag. “Disposable carryout bag” means a bag of any

material, commonly plastic or kraft paper, which is provided to a consumer at the point of

sale to carry purchases. Disposable carryout bag does not include:

(1) a reusable bag as defined in subdivision 5;

(2) bags used by consumers inside stores to package bulk items such as fruit,

vegetables, nuts, candy, grains, or small hardware items, such as nails and bolts;

(3) bags used to contain or wrap frozen foods; meat or fish, whether prepackaged or not; or flowers or potted plants or other items where dampness may be a problem;

(4) bags used to protect prepared foods or bakery goods;

(5) bags provided by pharmacists to contain prescription drugs;

(6) newspaper bags, door-hanger bags, laundry or dry cleaning bags; or

(7) bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage, pet

waste, or yard waste bags.

The basis for the proposal is similar to attempts in other states, plastic bags don’t degrade, according to the New Haven Advocate:

Plastic bags are “the most ubiquitous form of litter on the planet and are among the greatest causes of marine mortality, especially turtles, which confuse the bags for jellyfish,” says Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council and head of the group’s solid waste team. “We support limiting the free distribution of plastic bags at supermarkets, especially in coastal regions like Connecticut.”

The statistics Hershkowitz cites are staggering: Five hundred billion plastic bags are used each year around the world, and one million plastic bags are produced every minute in this country from imported petroleum. The United Nations estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean, and this transmits pollutants to the fish, which humans then eat, Hershkowitz says.

The Minnesota proposal for a bag tax mirrors one that’s been imposed in Washington, D.C., the only other place where a tax exists. San Francisco has banned plastic bags altogether.

“Many of our customers ask for plastic bags when they’re in our stores,” Aaron Sorenson, a spokesman for Lund’s and Byerly’s told MPR’s Ambar Espinoza in a 2008 story. “Of all the bags that we used in 2007, over 30 percent of them were plastic bags. So to just get rid of plastic bags at this time would likely upset many of our customers who ask for them.”

  • Phillip

    There are other uses for plastic sacks like trash can liners, but it’s hard to imagine people asking for plastic sacks. The sack of sacks is rarely an orderly bunch! Also, the word ubiquitous is perfect for describing them. Driving around you see plastic sacks along the highways all the time. Good for Rep. Clark.

  • momkat

    Yes, good for Rep.l Clark. I thought Washington state had imposed the nickel cost–a friend from Seattle was fuming about it last summer. Plastic water bottles should be next.

  • The bag tax works fine here in DC. Everyone just brings their own reusable bags to the store, which last much longer and can carry a lot more.

    I think I prefer the DC rules to the Bay rules, because there are time that you might need a plastic bag and a blanket ban doesn’t serve customers well.

  • ad

    Absolutely. Seattle has made great strides in getting residents used to bringing their own bags. Minnesota is more than ready to make that leap too. Way to go, Karen.

  • T. Neal

    I spend part of my day dealing with the plastic bag menace. I drag them into my truck and drag them back out again at our warehouse where they are bailed and who knows what happens to them after that. I guess I feel good that we help to rid the garbage stream of a lot of them, but we are also responsible for distributing them in the first place. They are useful when you take towser for a walk, remember be a good citizen and pick up after him or her. While the economy sputters, use all you want it gives me some extra work to do, but please don’t recycle the ones you use to clean up after towser.

  • cb

    This is one of the many stupid ideas going around. In our condominium building we are required to bag all garbage. Rather than buy new bags (which we could not afford) we reuse/recylce grocery bags. Hmmmm what a novel idea to some who are clueless. Get a life and welcome to the real world people. It is only those with money to spare (and that does not include us or millions calling this planet home) who have the luxury of buying NEW BAGS every time they need one. What a waste.

  • Jeff

    I too use the plastic bags as can liners, and the paper ones for holding recycling. It seems the issue is mostly with the plastic bags, though it appears the bill’s language includes “kraft paper” bags. Why? I wonder how this will affect relations for those retailer’s who bag customers’ goods for them… Will the warehouse store model of using cardboard boxes become the norm, and is that an improvement? My guess – a Pawlenty veto threat kills the whole thing.

  • Susan

    Whenever an idea is produced and promoted that is the best current plan for a problem that involves more than a small group of specific people, there are always those who think the whole plan is inane because it affect them personally. I, for one, could care less if those living in a condominium building recycle plastic shopping bags for their garbage. Hello? These shopping bags you are wrapping your garbage in (which in itself is another recycling problem) is not biodegradable and will lay in landfills for years. Get a grip, look at something other than yourself, and do what needs to be done to help a global issue that affects the health of millions of people.