Monday, October 29, 2007

Plastic Panaceas

In an expected move, the City Council has introduced legislation that would establish a mandatory/voluntary plastic bag recycling program. As first reported in the City Room blog, the measure would require stores to set aside space for consumers to bring back their plastic bags to; and in addition, "This bill would require that each plastic bag carry a printed message, at least three inches in height and in capital letters: “Please return this bag to a participating store for recycling.”

The open question, however, is what incentives are being proffered for consumers to bring their used bags back to all of the stores that are over 5,000 sq. ft. As we told the NY Sun in today's story: "What we have here is a program that has no incentive for the consumer to bring the bags back." So what this amounts to is a preschool form of deposit system-one that will be second phased when the consumer fails to comply with the voluntary initiative.

Here's how we put it in the Sun: "Mr. Lipsky called the plan "a death by slow water torture" that would burden businesses with extra costs. He questioned whether it was "a deposit wolf in sheep's clothing" that would lead to tougher recycling laws similar to those for bottles." Our observation was rebutted by the Speaker who said that this wasn't a deposit requirement, and we agree for the short term. It lays the groundwork nevertheless.

It also, contrary to what the bill's sponsors argue, adds another regulatory cost onto an already overburdened retail sector. This is not the view of the speaker: "She minimized the impact of the bill on businesses. "This is not something that's going to end up costing stores any kind of significant money," Ms. Quinn said."

One wonders just how she knows this, since to the best of our knowledge there was no cost/benefit analysis done, and there's no economic impact study built into the bill. So what we have is another well-intentioned law that will add to the currently high costs of doing business in this city. And with supermarkets closing, and independent retailers disappearing, the current proposal is another nail in the small business coffin.