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Don’t Eliminate Consumers’ Choices: Oppose the Bag Ban

September 12, 2011

Dear Board Member:

The Integrated Waste Management Authority’s (IWMA) proposed ordinance on a county-wide plastic and paper bag ban would limit shoppers’ choices and impose higher costs on consumers. Therefore, on behalf of the National Taxpayer Union’s 53,000 members in California, many of whom live and work San Luis Obispo County, I urge you to protect consumer choice and reject the proposal.       

Every government can and should respect the ability of its citizens to make routine personal decisions for themselves; dictating such choices through heavy-handed bans and higher taxes on products deemed undesirable runs counter to this sensible principle. Indeed, the ban and tax scheme would actually hit consumers twice. Once, at the point-of-purchase when shoppers will now be charged $.05 per paper bag, or by paying varying costs for a more expensive reusable bag. Second, at home, when residents will be paying for products to replace needs currently met by reused plastic grocery bags. These costs will be borne across the economic spectrum and will have real, negative consequences for San Luis Obispo families. 

By banning plastic bags and imposing a $.05 per bag tax on their likely replacement, the county is heaping a new $2.5 million burden on local shoppers. Regardless of where you stand on the other issues, our members hope you will carefully consider if you should levy a new $2.5 million tax on all county residents during the middle of a recession.

Consumers choose plastic bags largely because of their lifetime versatility. Nine out of 10 Americans report reusing plastic bags for everyday needs such as trashcan liners, gym bags, or cleaning up after pets. Not only will shoppers feel the pinch by being forced to buy more expensive bags, or pay a $.05 cent tax per paper bag, they will also face much higher costs at home as they look for replacement products to meet their needs.

Finally, in July, the California Supreme Court ruled larger government bodies (i.e., counties and large cities) are potentially subject to conducting Environmental Impact Reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act when enacting plastic bag bans. The IWMA ordinance contains no provision for an EIR, and thus would likely be subject to costly litigation.

While popular amongst the political elite, grocery bag bans and taxes have dubious value as sound policies. San Luis Obispo County’s IWMA should look toward alternatives such as voluntary education programs, or encourage more businesses to offer incentives for plastic bag recycling. A draconian ban may not have the desired environmental benefit, could open up the county to potential litigation, and will raise taxes on struggling families. 


Brent Mead
State Government Affairs Manager