Monday, December 03, 2007

City Council Plasticity

We've been pointing out that the recently introduced bill on plastic bag recycling, Intro 640, is not only unfair to retailers, but is also unlikely to achieve the environmental goals that the bill's sponsors envision. Well. there are some folks at the council who do see this clearly, at they've introduced a resolution calling on the state to enact incentives for retailers to shift from plastics to other bag forms.

As the NY Sun writes this morning: "The city's effort to deal with plastic bags is growing more complicated, as council members Gale Brewer and Simcha Felder plan to introduce a resolution encouraging state government to provide tax incentives to retailers who stop handing out plastic bags." This is exactly the right approach, one that encourages change by creating incentives rather than expensive obligations. As we told the Sun in a truncated quote: "A lobbyist for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, Richard Lipsky, praised the incentives plan, saying it would divide the burden of eliminating plastic bags more evenly between bag manufacturers and businesses than the recycling plan."

If legitimate incentives are enacted on the state level, and the plastic bag industry perceived that there was a real threat, it would immediately become much more proactive on the recycling front-and not just by supporting a bill that places 99% of the burden on stores and about 1% on the folks who actually make millions manufacturing the bags.

Council woman Brewer captures the equity issues: "Ms. Brewer said yesterday that grocers see the recycling plan as a burden and that their thin profit margins make the transition to reusable bags from plastic difficult without additional incentives. "This bill would help tremendously with their economic issues," she said." Brewer has been a leader in trying to preserve the niche of independent retailers in NYC.

What's really predictable in all of this is the reaction of the Plastic Bag Alliance. Nothing underscores the nature of Intro 640's unfairness to retailers and its benefits to the baggers than this reaction: "Donna Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the plastic bag lobby, the Progressive Bag Alliance, said the plan would push consumers toward paper bags."If they were to take into consideration the environmental and unintended consequences of paper bags, they would reconsider their support for this bill," Ms. Dempsey said."

Translated: "plastic good, paper bad." Of course, if consumers started to get accustomed to reusing paper or cloth bags-or even plastic-the environment, if not the plastic people, would be better off. And in the process, retailers wouldn't be forced to bear yet another expensive burden.