Force and Require

I just read in the Herald today that Haggen Food & Pharmacy is supporting a proposed ban on single use plastic bags in Bellingham and I have got to say how disappointed I am in their lack of leadership in this issue.

The ordinance would force retailers to stop offering plastic shopping bags to their customers within city limits, with a few possible exceptions. It also would require retailers to collect a 5-cent fee for every paper bag used by a customer.

I think it is pretty self evident that these single use bags are a nuisance, a blight on the countryside, and in their growing volume are an environmental problem, so the issue here is not the bags, but how we go about ridding or reducing their use.   The worst way I can imagine is to force and require consumers and retailer to follow a complicated, difficult to enforce, ordinance that is riddled with exceptions, yet that is exactly what is being proposed.

The seven-page ordinance proposed for Bellingham contains many wrinkles, among them:

  • a provision exempting low-income people from the nickel paper bag fee;
  • a provision allowing a store to get a temporary exemption from the law that would be granted by the mayor, if that store can demonstrate a special hardship;
  • a provision allowing retailers at the Bellingham Farmers Market to distribute paper bags to their customers without charging the nickel fee;
  • a provision authorizing the city to inspect retail establishments to check for compliance, and to seek court orders against violators;
  • paper bags provided to shoppers must be made from 40 percent recycled materials.

Read more: Bellingham Herald Politics

If this type of plastic bag is so bad that we need to address their use with any type of ban, why not make it a better ban and just ban their use without exception?   That’d be a simple, fair, more limited government solution, without “many wrinkles” that would leave the rest of the decision making in the hands of consumers and retailers.

But what I think is by far the best way to rid of us this type of plastic bag is for large outfits like Haggen Food & Pharmacy, who apparently oppose the use of these bags,  to provide leadership through example.  Haggen could drop these single use bags at anytime without City Ordinance, and probably boost their business in Bellingham.  This could potentially create a peer pressure situation that would have other retailers curtailing or reducing their own use to keep up with the Haggens.   I would certainly support Haggen if they went this route over the route of more government.

We don’t need more ordinances, we need leadership.

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