Connecticut working on the next "bag tax"

If you’re used to grabbing your purchases at the store by the handles of a plastic shopping bag and you live in Connecticut, get ready for a change. If all goes as planned, by sometime this fall you will probably either be figuring out a different way to cart your groceries home or you’ll be paying a bit more. Taking after the schemes enacted in California and other locations, the state is preparing to save the environment by taxing the use of plastic bags. (WTNH)

The ‘Bag Tax’ is back, and a key legislative committee says it should start this October.

It would require a nickel tax on non-reusable bags at the supermarket and other retailers, and the bill has passed the Environment Committee with both Democrat and Republican votes. One estimate says that Connecticut residents use nearly one billion plastic bags a year. This proposal is aimed at cutting down the litter and raising money…

It’s estimated the nickel fee could generate as much as twenty million dollars.

It would be a dedicated stream of cash to help pay for the maintenance and keeping state parks open so that they would be insulated from the coming state budget cuts. The Democratic co-chair of the committee, Senator Ted Kennedy Junior of Branford calls it a ‘win-win’ idea that will also reduce the use of the bags.

I’m not here to defend the premise that plastic grocery bags are a great idea. We haven’t used them in years in our house. We have a set of those cloth bags with handles which you can keep using for a very long time. We make an exception every month or two and ask for paper bags because I use those for packing up the paper recycling, but otherwise it’s all cloth for us.

But what Connecticut is doing is yet another exercise in the government pretending they can modify human behavior through tax policy and it stinks. They know full well that the average family that gets four or five bags of groceries per week is probably going to just pony up the extra quarter on shopping day rather than be bothered with all this nonsense. And Connecticut’s elected officials are pretty much admitting that, saying that it will be a “steady revenue stream.”

Why not stop being hypocrites? If you truly think that plastic bags are an evil which should be removed from civilized realms (and there’s definitely an argument for that idea) then just ban them rather than cashing in on the game. Several states and cities have already done it. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a list of places where various bag restrictions are either already in place or being considered. California and Hawaii have pretty much banned them entirely, along with several large cities including Chicago and Seattle. Allowing the use of the evil bags to continue flourishing while the government pockets tens of millions of dollars per year (by their own estimates) is simply hypocrisy.

But even if I’m not a fan of plastic bags, is banning them at all really the answer? Even assuming you want the government micromanaging your life and the free market that much, possibly not. This think piece at Wired from last year poses the question of what you’ll be replacing them with after the ban.

But advocates of these laws and journalists who cover the issue often neglect to ask what will replace plastic bags and what the environmental impact of that replacement will be. People still need bags to bring home their groceries. And the most common substitute, paper bags, may be just as bad or worse, depending on the environmental problem you’re most concerned about.

That’s leading to a split in the anti-bag movement. Some bills, like in Massachusetts, try to reduce the use of paper bags as well as plastic, but still favor paper. Others, like in New York City, treat all single-use bags equally. Even then, the question remains as to whether single-use bags are necessarily always worse than reusable ones.

I find the reusable cloth bags to be a great option, but I’m simply not comfortable dictating that choice to you. (Nor do I want Uncle Sam taking on that role.) After all, sometimes you find yourself stopping up to pick up some groceries on the way home and you don’t have your cloth bags with you. How are you going to carry your purchases? Perhaps keeping both the plastic and paper bags around but educating the public about options and consequences so they can make their own decisions might be a better use of the government’s time. Or, failing that, force the stores to use bags which say on the outside in large letters, “I Just Gave Five Cents to the Government So They Can Waste That Too.”