COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE MCKINNEY

Bag the bag ban and tax scam

Our government is at it again.

Despite a recent U-T San Diego/10News poll showing most San Diegans oppose the idea, San Diego City Councilmember Sherri Lightner is pushing a big brother-style ordinance that would outlaw plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores, and require you to pay a tax on paper bags.

To make matters worse, every dime of this new bag tax – which would generate millions of dollars every year – will go right into the corporate pockets of stores such as Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons, instead of being put to good use here in San Diego for neighborhood cleanups and beautification projects.

Those supporting the ban say that plastic bags are an unconscionable source of waste and litter. However, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these bags make up less than half of 1 percent of the waste stream. And, where litter studies have been conducted, plastic bags are typically less than 1 percent of what’s found.

If the proposal is approved, you would be forced to use paper bags at a cost of 10 cents apiece. All told, this equates to a multimillion-dollar tax on the people of San Diego — a tax for which you won’t even be able to vote. If you don’t want to use paper bags, your only other option is to buy the more expensive reusable bags, the vast majority of which are made in China (from oil) and imported to the U.S. at a rate of more than 500 million per year.

Why, in these tough economic times, are we lumping any government costs onto grocery bills when so many families and senior citizens are struggling to make ends meet?

And then there are the environmental drawbacks. Did you know that it takes much more energy to manufacture paper and reusable bags than it does to produce plastic ones? According to one study, the “global warming potential” of producing plastic grocery bags without factoring in reuse, is one-third that of paper bags and 1/131st that of reusable cotton bags.

Moreover, by pushing people toward paper bags, more trees will be chopped down, leading to greater deforestation of our wilderness areas. In addition, it takes 96 percent more water to produce paper bags than it does plastic.

All in all, the impacts of a ban on plastic bags would have a sizable negative impact on our environment.

And let’s not forget that people like to reuse their plastic bags to line their wastebaskets at home, pick up after their pets and carry their lunch to work. If these bags are outlawed, we’ll be forced to buy our plastic bags — yet another cost associated with this ban.

The bottom line is this bag ban and tax scam doesn’t make sense for San Diego. The benefit is minimal and the downsides are many.

Instead, our city leaders should focus on what we San Diegans really want: faster police and fire response times, smooth streets and more hours at our libraries and recreation centers.

McKinney is founder and senior pastor at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Church of God in Christ in San Diego. Arabo is president and CEO of the Neighborhood Market Association, a San Diego-based nonprofit that represents 2,100 family-owned markets in California, Nevada and Arizona.

View all comments
User Response
1 UserComments
Roger Kube 9:08pm February 9, 2014

"most San Diegans oppose the idea." 800 surveyed out of 1.4 million in SD most? .10 FEE, not TAX. Defrays the stores costs. Why single out large stores & make it sound like a revenue stream? Misleading. The fee incentivizes use of reusable bags. Best choice for our environment, economy & health. NMA could distribute some reusable bags to their constituents? The fee to go to neighborhood cleanups & beautification projects? Would NMA's members prefer these types of projects or defray their costs? We shouldn't remove plastic checkout bags because they represent a small % of the waste stream? Irrelevant. There a point? Expenses to plastic bags - cleanup costs & the cost of bags built into cost of goods. There are plenty of alternatives to liners. "A ban on plastic bags would have a sizable negative impact on our environment." FALSE. Can't have a plastic bag ordinance & "faster police & fire response times, smooth streets and more hours at our libraries and recreation centers."? Roger Kube