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Green Greed: When Grocers Become the Willing Taxman

Austin James
LA Data Analyst & Communications Consultant

It’s been only two weeks since the statewide effort to ban plastic bags in California failed miserably in the California State Senate and already the Golden State environmentalists are at it again. A newly proposed ordinance in the City of Los Angeles would outlaw plastic bags across the city, while levying a heavy 10-cent usage fee on all paper bags.

They’re certainly a persistent and passionate bunch, this band of green activists. But some might be surprised to learn that the measure’s most vocal booster is actually a newcomer to the California environmental scene.

In a recent letter to the chairman of the LA City Council’s Environmental Committee, the top lobbyist for the California Grocers Association pleaded that the tax be “implemented very quickly” and even candidly admitted that its delay would be “detrimental to our business model.”

It is a romantic idea, large grocers banding together to combat the scourge of plastic bags across the state. Unfortunately, the reality is that these large corporations are motivated by one thing: their own self-interest. The association’s member businesses stand to make millions from the proposed bill.

The sad truth is that the monies reaped from this regressive tax masquerading as a usage fee would actually line the pockets of the very markets in charge of collecting it.

Under current form, none of the proposed tax will actually go to the local government(s) affected by the new law. Instead, according to the bill, “All monies collected by a Store … will be retained by the Store.”  So, in reality, this legislation, like all plastic proscriptions, will take from the unwilling taxpayers, line the pockets of the biggest corporations, and actually do more damage than good for the local environment.

Pushing consumers towards alternatives, so-called reusables or paper bags, will result in a deeper environmental footprint and put at risk more than 1,000 real jobs in the City of Los Angeles.

Plastic bag production uses less water and produces less carbon than paper bags. In addition, plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable and actually generate half the greenhouse gas emissions of composted paper bags, resulting in 80 percent less waste.

A recent study found they even consume less space in landfills: 2,000 plastic bags weigh just 30 lbs, while 2,000 paper bags register at a whopping 280 lbs. There even exists environmental disparities in the delivery of the two products. For every seven trucks needed to deliver paper bags, only one truck is needed for the same number of plastic bags.

And it’s not just paper bags that plastic outperforms.

Standard reusable bags, which are neither compostable or recyclable, must be reused 131 times “to ensure they have a lower global warming potential” than a conventional plastic bag, according to 2011 study by the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency. So, assuming a small family takes one trip to the grocer a week, it would take 7.5 years of using the same reusable bag before it out-performed a single plastic bag used only three times.

These are the inconvenient truths that the grocers and the environmental lobby don’t want Californians to know. And despite the emotional appeals of both, the only detrimental impact related to this bill would be its adoption.

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