With Grocery Bills Rising, Local Legislators Seek Hit Consumers with Plastic Bag Checkout Tax
With a global rise in food prices hitting the pockets of consumers here in Ocean County, local shoppers may find a few more dollars added to their grocery bills in the future. That is if New Jersey Assembly bill S-675 passes. The bill, hailed as the “Plastic and Paper Bag Reduction Act” would tack on 10 cents for every paper or plastic bag consumer’s use at the checkout counter. The measure is aimed at forcing consumers to use reusable shopping bags.
The goal of the bill, according to 10th District Legislators, Senator Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Dave Wolfe and Greg McGuckin, is to reduce the amount of plastic and paper used and to protect the environment.
“Each year, billions of plastic bags are used in the United States and only a fraction of these bags are returned to the store for proper recycling,” the said today in a release. “These single-use plastic bags are a major concern of pollution in New Jersey, littering highway medians and waterway shorelines.”
However the tax will not go towards any environmental projects, according to the elected officials. Instead, the money collected, which could be a windfall for state coffers, would simply be used by the Department of Environmental Protection to defray the implementation and enforcement costs of the bill, according to the statement. More enforcement? More Departments? More Jobs?
Legislators are pushing for the tax to take effect as of January 1, 2013.
Consumers Already Hit Hard with Rising Food Prices
Consumers already facing hard times from the global economic downtown are trying to make ends meet as food prices increased since the 2008 world food crises where prices jumped nearly 40 percent. This year, hit hard with a drought, food prices in the United States are once again on the rise. In July alone, the price of corn rose 23% in the United States. The rise is attributed to a nearly 100 million ton collapse by 100 million tons in production, down from 374 million tons as a result of the drought.
The drought has also triggered a domino effect in the food industry that will have long term consequences for dairy products, including eggs and meat. Farmers across the nation have been forced to slaughter their livestock in greater amounts than normal to reduce food and feed costs.
Immediate Action Required According to Assemblyman
With consumers already being hit hard at the register to feed their families, the New Jersey legislators are moving forward with their tax, citing an environmental platform.
“The pollution generated from plastic bags is growing at an alarming rate and education and recycling programs have only gone so far. We need to take immediate action to ensure that consumers have an option when going to the grocery store and encourage them to start making a change now,” continued Assemblyman Wolfe.
The bill will also create additional administrative overhead for businesses. It requires the operator of the store to report quarterly to the DEP on the volume of plastic and paper carryout bags purchased and the total fees collected from the distribution of carry out bags. A further proposal beginning in January 1, 2015 would require store operators to provide only compostable plastic bags or recyclable paper bags to its customers and would prohibit them from providing any non-compostable or non-recyclable bags to customers.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is an environmental issue that needs to be addressed now. Jim, Dave and I will be writing to our Republican caucuses urging our fellow legislators to sign on and get this important bill passed in Trenton,” added Assemblyman McGuckin.
Study Claims Reusable Shopping Bags Safe Haven for Bacteria; Health Concerns Cited
While the elimination of plastic and paper bags is good for the environment, the use of reusable bags, according to a study says they are not good for your health, if not cleaned properly and regularly, according to a University of Arizona study on the subject. Charles Gerba, a UA professor of soil, water and environmental science and principal investigator for the project, said a good way to contaminate your food is by putting raw meat products and vegetables in a bag together. The germs might be destroyed when cooking the meat, but those vegetables still carry the bacteria. ”Hardly anyone ever washes those bags. They are the least-washed item in the house,” Gerba said. “A car trunk is like an incubator.”
To get samples for the study, the team waited outside grocery stores and traded clean bags for customers’ dirty ones. They asked a series of questions related to the method of storage and if or when the bags were cleaned.
The study found a high number of consumers do not wash their bags and many of the plastic ones cannot be machine washed. Gorba found the bags found a significant range of bacteria from salmonella to E. coli, detected in more than half of the bags sampled. “Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health,” he said.
While the bill is well intended, to reduce the amount of roadside trash in the state and to hopefully limit the amount of plastic bags that make their way into the state’s water systems, there are other seemingly important challenges ahead of the legislation such as health and public awareness campaigns as consumers rely more on reusable grocery bags.
Plastic Bag Legislation Elsewhere
Plastic bag ban bills are now in effect throughout the county. Despite the measure meeting resistance at the state level in California, dozens of California towns and cities have adopted bans, according to The Plastic Bag Ban Report, a grassroots watchdog on the subject.
If passed, New Jersey would be the only state in the continental United States to issue a statewide ban. Alaska and Hawaii are the only states to have already banned their use.
In Maryland, legislators are taking the bag manufacturers to task and not the consumers. It will enact what is called an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). It will put the financial burden initially on the manufacturers of bags, but many suggest those costs will eventually be passed on to the consumer, if passed.
In Massachusetts, a state wide plastic bag ban bill has recently cleared committee.
North Carolina has banned the use of plastic bags in Outer Banks communities.
Dozens of communities around the country have enacted plastic bag ban ordinances. Others, such as Thurston County, Washington have enacted an education program to protect the Puget Sound, but falling short of a ban.
In Illinois, legislators passed into law this past June, the Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act, which prohibits any city with a population under 2,000,000 from enacting plastic bag ban ordinances.
Who is the bill really helping?
California, one of the most environmentally friendly states in the union, has already done the math for New Jersey. A statewide character waste study on the issue claimed plastic bags represented just three tenths of one percent of the waste stream in the state. Litter studies across the nation have found that the bags consist of only one to two percent of all litter in the United States.
The bill would generate millions of dollars daily and possibly rival the income stream of New Jersey’s toll roads. Every sale at the register could produce an average of 40 to 50 cents in revenue for the state. It’s another cash cow for New Jersey politicians that has not been proven to have any realistic effect on the environment in states and cities that have enacted similar laws.
What is your opinion of the 10 cent plastic bag tax?
http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Publications/General/2009023.pdf http://reason.com/archives/2012/05/23/plastic-bag-ban-will-put-los-angeles-in http://plasticbagbanreport.com/ http://laundry.about.com/od/stainremoval/a/How-To-Keep-Reusable-Grocery-Bags-Clean-And-Safe.htm http://www.oklahomafarmreport.com/wire/news/2012/07/03934_CZERWIEN07302012_124923.php http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTPOVERTY/Resources/336991-1311966520397/Food-Price-Watch-April-2012.htm http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/05/us-food-fao-idUSBRE8331CU20120405 http://www.wfp.org/stories/rising-food-prices-10-questions-answered http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu/index.php/article/2010/07/reusable_grocery_bags_may_be_health_hazards