Why the Nickel?
Bellingham City Council member Seth Fleetwood is bringing forth a proposed ordinance banning plastic shopping bags. I haven’t read the actual proposal, but here’s a quick look from The News Tribune,
… a proposed city ordinance that would force retailers to stop offering plastic shopping bags to their customers within city limits. It also would require retailers to levy a 5-cent fee for every paper bag used by a customer.
The intent is to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to carry out their purchases, not just at the grocery but at other stores, too.
“This is what people did for 10,000 years,” Fleetwood said. “They brought their bag to the market.”
I guess that it if a City Council member is bringing this up, he must feel there is a real good chance that this will be accepted by the people of Bellingham. But why would they? Is it that they are anti-litter/pollution, believe it is a danger to wildlife, or is it that they are pro-government intrusion into private matters?
No doubt these plastic shopping bags are a nuisance, litter and a blight on the countryside. The last time I drove through the open country around Denver I noted how many “shopping bag” trees they had growing natively along the freeways. It’s ugly there and its getting that way around here. If the City of Bellingham or even Whatcom County looked at the litter and environmental damage caused by plastic shopping bags and simply banned them altogether, I’d say go for it. I’d even blog in support of it. A simple ban would be a simple solution that would be simple to enforce and fair and equitable in it’s effects.
But this proposed ordinance is not a simple ban on plastic bags and if you read the whole article you’ll see that it really is very complex with all kinds of exceptions and most probably an enforcement non-starter. The nickel rather than the complexity though, is the tip off that there is so much more than simple when it comes to this proposed ordinance.
The other part of the ordinance is about behavior control. Not only would this ordinance ban us from using plastic bags, it also demands that stores charge us a fee/fine to get us to change our behavior. And change us not just away from plastic bags, but also away from paper bags and into reusable bags. If this were simply about plastic bags there would be no nickel in the ordinance. And if paper bags can also be shown to be detriment like plastic shopping bags, then why the nickel? Why not ban paper bags also? Yes, part of this ordinance is bags, but another part is government control.
The simple ban would leave store owners and customers as the deciders in this brave new plastic-bagless region. Customers might choose paper bags, reusable bags, or no bags. Stores might choose to fully charge for paper, discount paper, no paper only reusable, or even go all Costco on us and offer either a bare cart or a big ol’ mayo box.
I can’t support what I see in this ordinance because it goes beyond protecting our environment and right into more control of our day to day lives.