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A Tax That (Literally) Makes You Sick?

by Michael Tasselmyer / /

Back in April, NTUF devoted coverage in the Taxpayer's Tab to H.R. 1686, a bill by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) that would impose a five-cent tax on every disposable paper or plastic bag that grocers and other retailers issue to customers. The proposal -- known as the Trash Reduction Act of 2013 -- was introduced to coincide with Earth Day, and was designed to incentivize shoppers to switch to reusable bags instead of single-use varieties that wind up in landfills across the country.

The legislation would generate plenty of revenue: in a press release, Rep. Moran's office cited figures from 2009 that showed Americans use over 102 billion plastic bags per year. However, that money would be directed towards new environmental spending to the tune of $4.08 billion.

The bag tax proposal isn't new. In fact, Moran based his legislation on an existing law in Washington, D.C., a city not far removed from his own Congressional district that encompasses parts of Northern Virginia.

Now, the bag tax has made its way overseas to the United Kingdom, and while many consumers may already be weary of new taxes and regulations, emerging research shows that this new initiative could actually make some Brits physically ill.

The Telegraph reports on a study from Aberdeen University in Scotland that warns the tax could result in more outbreaks of sickness from E. Coli and other food-borne bacteria, due largely to the high risk of contamination in reusable bags. "We have to be careful about being too strict in forcing people to re-use bags. ... There are some bags you should only use once, so I would be very unhappy at having a 5p charge on bags that are being used for food," said Professor Hugh Pennington.

Bacteriologist Kofi Aidoo echoed Pennington's concerns: "If people are going to have to pay for bags and re-use them my concern is we're creating a high risk of food poisoning. At the very least people have to be given advice to clean these bags every time they use them."

The UK study seems to be supported by research from UPenn, in which scientists observed a 25 percent increase in hospital admissions for bacterial infections (including E. Coli) after San Francisco banned plastic bags from certain stores.

The findings suggest an unintended, potentially hazardous consequence of environmental regulations that public officials will undoubtedly have to address should they decide to move forward with new or existing bag tax laws.