Paper or plastic–or else!

The Sacramento Bee is editorializing today to promote the proposed 25-cent California grocery bag tax, AB 2769 (Levine). They’ve got a mix of fact and fiction (e.g. paper and plastic grocery bags recycling rates were 25 and 9 percent, respectively, in 2006 and rising–more than double the editorial’s claim) in the lead-up to this unfortunately-worded conclusion:

AB 2769 would provide shoppers with a choice: Bring reusable bags or pay the true cost of a disposable bag.

The editorial also calls the tax the “market-based solution.” Just to set the record straight: there already is a market for grocery bags, and on average most consumers already pay the true cost of grocery bags. What is being proposed is arguably more “market-based” than an all-out ban, but saying that it provides shoppers with a choice is just cruel. If and when this tax is approved, it will not benefit shoppers. Contrary to the Sac Bee editorial, the proposed bag tax is also unlikely to save grocery stores money. If charging for bags saved grocery stores money, they would have done so long ago–they, too, have choices–without any legislative help from Sacramento. The extra time it takes to charge for bags (as a proxy, think of just the amount of time it takes to make change) and handle home-brought bags will probably eventually cost grocery stores more than the kick-back they’ll get from the bag tax, and that cost will be paid in higher food prices. Browse Reason Foundation’s ongoing coverage of the great grocery bag debate here.