Fines for Plastic Bags?

Last year I wrote about a proposal to fine the use of plastic shopping bags. Now it’s back, this time with the support of the children, because when children support political economic planning it’s so much cuter than when adults do it.

You can read about the story at 9News, the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post, or various other Colorado news sources. The upshot is that State Senator Jennifer Veiga and Representative Joe Miklosi want to impose a six-cent fine on plastic bag use, half of which would go to government-run education (because it is so obviously free from propaganda).

There are two main reasons, and several minor ones, why this is a horrible idea.

How stores supply bags to customers is properly between those parties, not politicians. Grocery stores have the right to provide the bags they want and that they believe their customers desire. Shoppers have the right to use those bags or bring their own. This is a matter of property rights and freedom of contract, and Veiga and Miklosi would violate both.

A government that can micromanage our shopping bags can control every other aspect of our life as well. If the “problem” is that plastic bags create waste, don’t we need political controls on all other sorts of waste? All around us there is wasteful driving, wasteful packaging, wasteful thermostat-setting, wasteful clothing, wasteful everything — according to the environmentalist zealots. Maybe we should just let the sate seize total control of the grocery stores, shut down the wasteful ones, and ensure the stores sell only non-wasteful products, as defined by politicians and bureaucrats. Clearly that is a recipe for tyranny of the highest order.

Now for the minor reasons. Plastic bags are cheap and convenient. Many people use them for trash-bag liners or to clean up after their wasteful pets. (Maybe those should be banned, too — just think of all the poop and food baggage they generate.) Cloth bags are a nuisance for those shopping on the fly. Besides, grocery stores such as King Soopers already provide a modest financial incentive for bringing your own bags.

This proposal is social-engineering. It is wrong. It is immoral. The very fact that it has been proposed and lavished with media attention illustrates how far our nation has moved away from the principle of individual rights. It is a great scheme by the environmentalists, though: they spend our tax dollars to propagandize to children, who in return propagandize for environmentalist causes which would expand funding for government-run schools. Brilliant. [Update: Kent Denver School, which features the children pushing for the fine, is a “non-profit, private independent school.” This does not change the arguments, though it does indicate how widespread is the anti-capitalist, environmentalist agenda.]

Update, January 30, 2009: The Rocky points out in an editorial:

Merchants would keep half the fee; the rest would underwrite a state “plastic bag reduction education fund . . . for the purpose of educating consumers” about the other part of the bill: an outright ban on plastic bags taking effect July 1, 2012. …

Because the 6-cent arbitrary charge appears to be a tax, it must be presented to voters for approval, according to TABOR.

I had been relying on this comment from 9News: “The other three cents would go back to the state to fund education.”

I did try to look up the bill before posting this article. I could not find it in the listings on the legislative web page, so I called the state capital and learned that, because the bill had not yet been introduced, it was not available online. I am happy to correct the record now.

The “plastic bag reduction education fund” makes the bill even worse, much worse, as it would force consumers to fund environmentalist propaganda, adding to the violation of their rights an infringement on their freedom of speech, which entails the right not to fund speech one finds objectionable.

6 thoughts on “Fines for Plastic Bags?”

  1. Look at LA stats to see the impact of plastic bags on one community. You call cloth bags a nuisance? What kind of “nuisance” do you think climate changes will have on your way of life plus plastic is made of oil which finances weapons used against us. My cloth bag has more than paid for itself in pay backs and it’s a habit not a nuisance and a habit other countries practice. Do you want cleaner air or convenience?
    signed, greenga

    City officials estimate that Los Angeles consumers use 2.3 billion plastic bags each year. An estimated 5% of plastic bags are recycled statewide, according to the city’s Bureau of Sanitation.

  2. Obviously, the people of Los Angeles, along with the people of Colorado, benefit from the use of plastic bags, meaning that the bags positively impact the community.

    Exactly how do plastic bags dirty the air? I thought the issue was landfill waste, which is simply not a real problem.

    I fully agree that oil funding is a problem — which is precisely why the U.S. should open up its own lands to oil development (as well as to nuclear power development).

    It’s great that you like your cloth bag. What’s not great is that you want to forcibly impose your own preferences on everyone else. Your preferences and your ideological commitments do not justify the violation of people’s rights.

  3. I had the idea that this extra expense would be an unreasonable hardship for some homeless people, but then came the realization that if it helps pay for better education the homeless problem will be reduced. I just love my Representative Joe Mikolosi… ;)

  4. Noel, I’m not sure whether you’re being sarcastic. However, I’ll address your comments as though they’re straight.

    First, the homeless constitute a tiny fraction of a grocery store’s business; the broader problem is the poor. Anyway the idea that increased tax-funding for education would somehow reduce homelessness is ludicrous. Obviously the law would impose a minor, but not a severe, hardship on the poor. But I did not base my case on that argument, as it’s a peripheral issue. Perhaps you would care to contribute a comment that actually responds to the relevant arguments.

  5. Ari, sarcasm is indeed the order of the day and is totally called for in the case of this nannyistic nonsense.
    Any increases in funding for public education through taxes/fees/fines for plastic bags won’t have any effect on the future prevalence of homelessness, which is something I’ve seen close-up and personal.

    Plastic shopping bags have a utility which, in most situations, far outweighs the overstated negative environmental impact.
    The truly deleterious effect of such a proposal as this is in the reduction of liberty with its concurrent impact on our social, psychological and spiritual environment.

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