Should Plastic Shopping Bags Be Banned?

There’s a growing movement in the United States, especially in coastal communities, to curb the use of plastic shopping bags. In fact, both San Francisco and North Carolina’s Outer Banks are among those communities that have already passed laws forbidding plastic bags. A statewide ban made it to the State Assembly level in California and at least one politician in Seattle is pushing for an end to their use.

California State Assemblywoman Julia Brownley refers to the plastic bags as “urban tumbleweeds,” and is the one who sponsored the measure that would require not only a ban on plastic bags, but a minimum charge of $.05/bag for paper bags.

Says Brownley:

They’re not only on beaches… You look in trees and there they are. You look in fences and they’re stuck in there. In storm drains after a big rain you see plastic bag goop, is what you see.

Tim Shestek of the oddly named American Chemistry Council, which opposes the measure, says voters should not stand for the additional cost to their grocery bills:

The last thing California consumers need right now is to have what amounts to a $1 billion tax added to their grocery bills… It’s astounding to think the Legislature is seriously considering creating a new $1 million bureaucracy to monitor how people choose to pack their groceries.

Meanwhile, Brownley counters that the state spends around $25 million each year just to clean up litter from the 19 billion plastic bags used by shoppers.

In 2009, voters in Seattle shot down a referendum that would have charged customers $.20 per paper or plastic bag. But City Councilman Tim Burgess recently stated his intention to pass an “outright ban” on all single-use plastic bags (excepting bags used in grocery stores for things like produce and fish).

On which side do you come down on this debate? Can you think of some sort of happy medium that would reduce plastic bag use without penalizing shoppers?

In California, a Step Toward B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bag) [NY Times]

Burgess: Seattle should ban plastic bags [Seattle Post Intelligencer]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.