2019 is the year when New York State passed new laws aiming to phase out and eventually ban the use of plastic bags. While there is definitely an argument to be made against the use of plastic in anything that can’t be recycled indefinitely, it was still a fairly radical step to take before there were suitable, affordable replacements available. At least in the case of shopping bags, however (one of the most common uses for plastic bags), you had an old-school alternative. Paper bags have their drawbacks but are generally capable of getting your groceries home.

But hold the phone! In New York City, a plastic bag ban wasn’t enough. Now the City Council is looking at jacking up costs by taxing paper bags. This plan is going to save the world for sure. (CBS New York)

Two city council members have announced plans for legislation to place a fee on paper shopping bags.
The proposal follows the state banning most single-use plastic bags beginning next March.

Under the new law, each municipality has the option of imposing a 5-cent fee on paper bags.

Whether you happen to agree with it or not, you can at least kind of see why some people oppose the use of plastic bags. They are filling up landfills faster than we can dig new ones and they don’t decompose for centuries. The amount of plastic junk in the oceans is obscene and harms wildlife. I get it. If we can find better alternatives, I’ll definitely be willing to give them a look. But paper bags? Paper is just about the most recyclable thing we produce. And it also decomposes pretty quickly without leaving a lot of toxic residue unless you plaster it with ink.

The problem with eliminating all plastic bags is that paper isn’t a substitute for every job they do. (Anyone who walks their dog on a regular basis knows what I’m talking about here.) It’s the same for many plastic products. Have you tried using paper straws? They last for about five seconds and then collapse. Working toward replacing plastic is a worthy goal, but you need to give the technology a chance to catch up.

The NYC politicians pushing for this tax are saying it’s a way to encourage people to bring their own reusable cloth or canvas shopping bags to the store. For full disclosure, we have a set of those bags and use them every week. But there are still some cold products that you want in a plastic bag. (Plus, I have a dog, so…) But what this really boils down to is yet another chance for the city government to tax people and generate more revenue. Five cents per bag adds up to a lot of money in a city with ten million shoppers in it. And that’s how all sin taxes work. If something was truly dangerous or evil, the government could just ban it. But if you only hype it up as evil you can turn it into a revenue stream.