Lots of people say they want us to stop using plastic bags, but some find the idea of giving all the bag fees to the shopkeepers unpalatable. Let’s look closely at this question.
Picture a family that buys 10 bags of groceries every week. You might think they would pay 50 cents/week (or $26/year) for their bags.
But wait. If there are five birds on a branch and somebody shoots one, how many are left? The answer is zero, because when the birds hear the gun they will all fly away.
And like the birds on the branch, shoppers in Warwick NY will respond instinctively.
Ten bags of groceries cost, on average, $100, and most families eating that much every week probably have some reusable bags already and could easily procure a few more. After that they may choose to get a couple of new bags to line garbage cans or whatever and sometimes they may forget to bring bags to the store. But before long their average weekly bag expense will be much, much lower than 50 cents. And similar things will happen for shoppers at all levels of spending.
Typically, when a new bag fee of five cents is implemented, overall usage drops by about 60%, so the stores will receive a declining number of nickels. Their new revenue from bags sold would be used to buy and stock the bags — including bags for people on WIC and SNAP. And the local grocery stores have also said they will be giving away reusable bags, particularly to low-income residents.
Up to now, the cost of checkout bags has increased overhead and raised consumer prices. The tiny uptick in revenues and profits to stores from the proposed bag law will be more than offset the next time wages or energy prices go up.
The policy of having people pay for their own bags when they need one has many benefits for society, because it will ultimately reduce the amount of plastic being produced and going into our waste streams. Since we have expected shopkeepers to provide bags to us at our whim for all these years, the little bit of extra benefit to them does not override the value of adopting this far sighted policy.