The other day I bought a watermelon at a small supermarket in Cambridge. The market used to give away super thin plastic bags so I was about to ask for the melon to be double-bagged. The clerk then pulled out a bag that was at least as thick as a “contractor” garbage bag for disposing of 2×4 fragments. Probably 25-50X as much plastic went into the new-style bag as had gone into the old one. What changed? The city has made it illegal for merchants to give away bags. They have to charge 10 cents for each bag by law. Apparently this grocery store doesn’t want to be seen as ripping consumers off so they have laid in a stock of the world’s thickest and strongest plastic bags. Unless at least 95 percent of customers actually bring their own bags to the store, then, the effect of the law will be to increase the use of plastic.
9 thoughts on “Forcing merchants to charge for shopping bags results in more plastic being used?”
How much said super strong bags cost the store? I have the feeling they might quickly revert to a cheaper option.
I find the moral panic about plastic usage in rich wester countries interesting. Recent footage of beautiful seas chocked with garbage caused much consternation, but as I have been in third world countries my experience is that said plastic garbage was 100% locally generated (trash collecting facilities are normally inexistent, and people do not seem to care about the trash), and not magically sent in from Boston. At the same time, as a fish biologist working is rivers of some of the richest countries of the planet I know for a fact that anything to force people to produce less crap is a blessing — everything that is not properly disposed off eventually makes its way in a water-stream, and it is not a pretty sight. So, even if I feel most of it is virtue signalling I wholeheartedly support charging people for stuff they do not need. Bring your bags from home.
The price will rise like parking, until those deluxe bags are $20 or the government then specifies the maximum bag size. When they had to charge money, it became a race to provide the best value for the mandatory charge, each store sizing up to keep customers from going elsewhere for bigger bags. At 10 cents, they’re a better value than garbage bags, so I’ll often get a bag for no reason. To think we used to laugh at those communists wearing government mandated clothing sizes, but communism is the human condition.
In germany the motto is “Inconvenience macht frei!”
Therefore when you go grocery shopping, not only do you pay for the bags you also bag the groceries yourself! In the discount stores like Aldi you must bag it super fast since the cashiers work lightning fast.
Even the fancy grocery stores make you bag it.
Oh yes and for extra inconvenience you must return the cart to the front! You’re welcome!
First, about bags, there are serious engineering/scientific life cycle impact analyses available. One directly relevant to Cambridge is that by the Danish EPA: http://mst.dk/service/publikationer/publikationsarkiv/2018/mar/plastposer-lca/ Greatly shortened:
The lowest life cycle impact is the heavy duty bags (like you described) with reasonable convenient re-use. If you get an average of 2 uses out of each bag, they are equivalent to getting 500 uses out of a fabric bag. Two uses per bag is easy. With modest care you can get 5-10 uses per bag.
The proper engineering comparison is the environmental impact of all aspects (manufacturing, distribution, etc.) of use, not tunnel vision on disposal of one component. My experience with this in Austria and Iceland is that these heavy duty bags fold up nicely. You stick them in your computer bag and use them for quick errands. You grab a short stack for major grocery visits. And you don’t obsess about the occasionally destroyed bags. Just put them into the recycling.
Only the virtue signally trendsters worry about getting the right fabric bag.
Second, regarding oceanic plastic pollution. This too has been scientifically measured, see https://www.nature.com/news/bottles-bags-ropes-and-toothbrushes-the-struggle-to-track-ocean-plastics-1.20432 Plastic films (which include grocery bags and much more) is only 0.8% of oceanic plastic waste. Two thirds is discards from fishing (nets, floats, etc.) Fishing discards do tremendous damage to wildlife (drowning whales and other mammals, trapping fish, etc.). It’s much more important to find ways to reduce or eliminate the fishing waste. Grocery bags is a publicity stunt diversion.
The bag-boys/girls/elderly adults at my large regional grocery store still ask if I want paper or plastic bags. I haven’t selected paper bags for groceries in over 30 years. I do, however, use the plastic bags as my kitchen trash bags.
The most ironic choice is the cotton bag, which is what you might buy in a health food store. You’d have to use it 900 times or something like that before you made up for the environmental impact vs. a disposable plastic bag.
The other thing that the studies miss is that the disposable bags get used for holding trash and if you don’t have them around you have to buy MORE plastic bags anyway.
But forcing other people to use reusable plastic bags make you feel so virtuous. The most important thing is not the actual impact but to signal your virtue. 99% of “liberalism” can be explained by virtue signaling. The rest can be explained by the human need for religion.
I’m so old, I remember when all bags were free and when we were supposed to ditch paper for plastic because paper used too many trees and caused too much pollution. Now, several virtue-driven flip-flops later, we’re simply paying for what we used to get for free.
This is OK: if you force a shopkeeper to charge for something, they will.
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