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Don’t Eliminate Shoppers’ Choices – Oppose the Plastic Bag Ban!
An Open Letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

February 7, 2011

Dear Chairperson Dingfelder and Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee:

     On behalf of the National Taxpayers Union’s 6,600 members in Oregon, I urge you to oppose Senate Bill 536, which would prohibit the use of plastic grocery bags and authorize fines of up to $250 per violation.

     SB 536 would punish all Oregonians for simply shopping and would limit their options for carrying groceries home. Worse, the bill imposes hefty fines on Oregonians for choosing plastic bags. Politicians should not be in the business of making routine personal decisions for consumers, especially by dictating such choices through draconian product bans and the threat of hundreds of dollars in fines on products they deem undesirable. Plastic bags offer consumers an advantage in terms of volume and durability. A typical plastic bag weighs only 4-5 grams, but can hold up to 17 pounds. Additionally, plastic bags are easily recycled and utilized for other tasks. Last year, 800 million pounds of plastic bags were recycled rather than ending up in landfills or on beaches. Every day, Oregonians use plastic bags to carry lunches to work at places like Nike and Intel or to line wastebaskets in their offices or bathrooms, among other purposes.

     Although currently fashionable among the political elite, research has shown that bag bans and taxes have dubious value as public policies. The Tax Foundation reports that bag taxes, like other “sin taxes,” fail to produce the promised revenues; furthermore, they do little to clean up the environment. Research by the Beacon Hill Institute found that Washington, D.C.’s plastic bag tax cost the city at least 100 jobs and resulted in a $5.6 million drop in aggregate disposable income. Moreover, a study by the Northwest Economic Policy Seminar concluded that a bag tax imposed by Seattle has done little to reduce landfill deposits. What the new laws have done is open municipalities to expensive litigation and increase costs for consumers. The fact of the matter is that as the cost of a good or activity increases, consumers either buy less of it or, likelier, seek out the good or activity from another, cheaper source. What’s more, the less costly or even the supposedly “greener” option may be of lower quality and, ironically, may be more damaging to the environment. A Tampa Tribune investigation determined that reusable bags sold in Winn- Dixie and Publix stores in Florida contained dangerous levels of lead. Reusable bags are seldom washed, which make them prone to carrying harmful bacteria. Perhaps all of these problems are reasons why no statewide  ban on plastic bags has been enacted anywhere in the U.S. thus far; in fact, such a proposal has fallen short in neighboring California’s Legislature three years running.

     Oregon faces serious fiscal problems, and the state needs to undertake equally serious reforms. However, the state shouldn’t contribute to an already onerous tax and regulatory burden by heaping on a new burdensome plastic bag ban that has questionable merit in several respects. Therefore, our members hope you will reject SB 536.


John Stephenson
State Government Affairs Manager