A supermarket employee in Seattle bags groceries into a cloth bag. On August 18, the city will vote on a plastic bag fee modeled after Ireland’s successful PlasTax fee.
We’ve all heard of the plastic menace. Plastic bags litter streets, trees, and streams. They suffocate wildlife. They can take over 1,000 years to decompose. And we’re only consuming and throwing away more of them every year.
They also have a knack for getting into the world’s oceans. Plastic bags and cigarettes account for more than 80 percent of marine litter, according to a recent landmark study by the U.N. Environment Programme, or UNEP. They are eaten by all kinds of fish and kill an estimated 1 million seabirds a year. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an island of litter twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean, is largely made up of plastic. UNEP says cutting bags off at the source is much cheaper than removing them later.
Enter the bag tax. A bag tax works by charging shoppers a fee””typically between 5 and 30 cents””for every bag they get in a store. This fee drives consumers to buy reusable bags and change their habits. It also causes high-quality reusable bags to emerge and diffuse because it’s a market solution. The resulting revenue can be used to raise awareness, to pay for environmental clean up, or to subsidize reusable bags.