Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shopping Bag Fees? The Wave of the Future

One of the first societal changes we can anticipate to combat our environmental crises is here: shopping bag fees. It begins, of course, on the west coast:

"Under a proposal announced this week by Mayor Greg Nickels, shoppers in Seattle would pay a 20-cent “green fee” beginning next year for every new paper or plastic bag they use to carry away goods from grocery, drug or convenience stories. They would be encouraged to bring their own bags for carrying home purchases.
Foam food containers would also be banned under the proposal.

It apparently is not without precedent:

"The city said a similar program in Ireland helped reduce the use of disposable bags by 90 percent. The city could expect to raise $10 million annually through the fee, with $1 million going to buy and distribute free reusable bags to each household in the city."

“This proposal,” the mayor said, “is all about forming new habits.”

That really is what it is all about. Behavioral change is difficult on a conscious level. To change behavior in the long run, we must change our habits and our expectations. And as to the knee-jerk reaction from some that this will never change, Mr. Conlin gives the appropriate response:

Mr. Conlin, the Council president, said making people pay for bags rather than banning them would encourage people to be aware of what they consume and could help the city avoid potential challenges to its authority to ban products. He dismissed the suggestion that the public dependency on disposable bags was somehow beyond rehabilitation. “Plastic bags were only invented like three decades ago,” Mr. Conlin said. “It’s not like this was a pioneer tradition.”

It never ceases to amaze me that people disinterested in a societal change will claim it can never change while ignoring the obvious fact that the situation in question was not always as it is. American can ween themselves off the habit of getting new grocery bags to use for an hour and then permanently discard. We got along fine before we started doing so.


Anonymous said...

The grocery bag thing is interesting to me. My wife and I noted that for us, the "free" bags are actually a negative. We don't need nearly as many bags as we end up getting, and they're filling up the apartment because we can't bring ourselves to throw them away without using them for something. The only thing more wasteful is wrapping paper on gifts.

The funny thing is that we bought a bunch of canvas bags which we use at the local farmers' market, but we always forget to bring them into the grocery store. We keep them in the trunk and then when we get to the front of the line and hear, "Paper or plastic?" the answer is, "Damn it!" Old habits die hard, and people don't even think about these things. I think that with only a little bit of prodding, things could change dramatically. If we just saw a few people with canvas bags in the parking lot or in the store, we'd remember to run out and grab ours before checking out. As it stands, it's not laziness or desire for the bags that's the problem for us. It's just that it's not an ingrained habit like conserving water and recycling cans is.

I'm a child of California droughts, and I notice when I see things dripping or when people leave the water running while soaping their hands. It triggers an immediate response in me. It probably won't be too much longer before getting out of the car in a grocery store parking lot without my canvas bags in hand does the same.

ScienceAvenger said...

I know how you feel. I have two large green garbage bags filled with the plastic bags from the super market, as they wait their turn in the queue to be used as small garbage bags. I think you are absolutely right, it is just a matter of creating new habits. Hopefully we'll get a few more little laws like that to give us a push in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

I know you don't like me but a) I don't care, and b) that doesn't change my positive opinion of the following: "It never ceases to amaze me that people disinterested in a societal change will claim it can never change while ignoring the obvious fact that the situation in question was not always as it is."

Although I feel it pitiable most people only respond to a matter once it affects their wallet, I think this is a good point and I make the argument frequently to those who feel fit to degrade my aversion to cell phones.

I think the green tax should be a dollar per bag, personally. Where I live, they've banned plastic bags from grocery stores altogether, which is a modest step in the direction you encourage. And we do the exact same thing you mention - save them up for future reuse.

Good argument here.