31 Jul 2008

Paper or Paper?

Los Angeles politicians have voted to ban plastic bags as of 2010.
Reyes said the ban will minimize cleanup costs for the city and reduce trash that collects in storm drains and the Los Angeles River. The city estimates more than 2 billion plastic bags are used each year in Los Angeles. About 5 percent of plastic bags and 21 percent of paper bags are recycled in California.

Banning plastic bags will not solve the litter problem, said an attorney who opposes the regulation of plastic bags.

"We've had enough of politicians accepting the misinformation that's spread around the Internet about plastic bags," said Stephen Joseph of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which represents bag manufacturers.
The Save the Bag guys obviously want to sell more bags, but I don't think they have a leg to stand on.

Can "the market" fix the problems of plastic bags floating everywhere? Clogging things? Killing animals and sealife? No, because there is no profit in reducing such activities.

Can individual stores be relied upon to charge customers more ("internalizing the externality")? No, because they will lose (some) customers to other markets.*

The LA-wide ban will leave the stores on a "level" playing field while reducing litter sources.

In many countries, people have to pay for bags. They do not consider them a human right, and they manage (quite well) to deal with the drama and effort of bringing empty bags to a store to fill up.

Bottom Line: I favor this regulation as a means of reducing pollution while moving people to a new paradigm of being careful with bags.

* Seriously -- I heard this from a clerk at the Davis Food Co-op, and they have pretty loyal customers!


  1. ...and a lot of redheads kill. Round 'em up.

    Plastic bags are one kind of trash. Banning any one kind of product will save the cleanup costs of that product. So the city will save cleanup costs. You've just justified banning about anything. Heck, your argument generalizes to (fire) matches very nicely -- and fearsomely.

    The problem is that people put trash where it doesn't belong -- littering, in other words. And you will not find a bigger hater of litterers than me -- just go ahead and try.

    But it seems the better solution would be for the police to actually enforce littering and dumping laws more seriously, including random stakeouts. And no $25 fine -- much larger, and seize assets to cover it.

  2. When I shopped at Whole Foods Austin recently I noticed they gave me a 20 cent discount for the two reusable bags I brought.

  3. @Silas -- policing littering is like enforcing the speed limit -- if everyone breaks the law, the law means nothing.

    @anon -- yes, that's the carrot method. I prefer the stick method -- charging for bags.

    Note that LA could move towards its goal by taxing plastic bags ($0.25/each) -- that would probably reduce use by 75%, but it would not "get rid" of the problem.

    (And, yes, someone will probably set up a business to sell bags outside stores. I guess that such a business will probably be illegal too.)


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