Would you like a bag for that?

Blue_reusable_shopping_bag-webFor the record, I normally use cloth bags for my shopping trips. But while vacationing with family this summer, I stopped at a chain pharmacy in Boulder, Colo., to pick up a few forgotten essentials. I decided to ask for a plastic bag to round up the apple cores, banana peels and candy wrappers that had accumulated in the car since our last stop. I was stunned when the clerk informed me that a plastic bag to hold my purchases would cost me an extra dime.

Boulder implemented the bag fee in July. The city council adopted the fee back in November 2012, but the city put off implementation for a few months to allow time to develop an education campaign and for stores to prepare.

Boulder is not alone. My limited research shows that:

  • At least 150 cities and counties across the country have implemented either bag fees or outright bans on plastic bags; 85 of these are in California. San Francisco holds the distinction of being the first city in the nation to ban plastics bags with a 2007 ordinance. In 2012, Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to approve a ban on plastic bags. A quick tally from a number of sources that track bag ban/fee ordinances indicates that about 50 more cities and counties across the nation are considering or drafting ordinances.
  • The movement to regulate plastic bags is not limited to cities and counties. Hawaii was the first state to ban plastic bags in all counties and a handful of states are considering some form of statewide bans or taxes — most recently Pennsylvania, which is considering a statewide 2-cent fee. Several states have plastic bag labeling, recycling or reuse programs.
  • There have even been a few attempts at the federal level. Most recently, on Earth Day 2013, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran of Virginia introduced a bill to create a national 5-cent tax on all disposable plastic or paper bags provided by stores to customers. Revenue generated from the fee would support the nation’s Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Getting back to my Boulder experience: I went ahead and paid for the bag. So, where did my dime go? Boulder retailers get to keep four cents to cover their costs of administering the program. The county recycling center gets less than a penny to cover the costs of retrieving plastic bags from recycling equipment. The city uses the rest of the money collected from the fee to pay for education and outreach about reusable bags and to cover the costs of free bags that it provides. I considered it a small price to pay.

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