Thursday, January 10, 2008

Daily News in the Bag

The NY Daily News came out this morning and, quite predictably, endorsed the City Council's Intro 640, a bill that mandates that around 2,000 local stores must recycle plastic bags. As the paper tells us: "There's a market for the plastic. The going rate is about 25 cents a pound - maybe enough to finance an industry that will make the rounds of stores, gather and resell the bags."

We're encouraged to find out that there's a potential gold mine here-but we'd feel more so if we knew that all of the editorial writers were quitting their jobs en masse to get into the burgeoning gold rush. The truth here is a bit different. There's no gold in them thar bags, and to believe there is, is to to be mislead by a plastic bag industry that told the City Council that plastic bag recycling would become a "profit center" for local stores.

Sure, just like the bottle bill is? In that piece of legislation all of the third party collectors charge the distributors a fat fee for collecting and recycling beer and soda bottles; not wanting to base their business chances on the fluctuating value of the containers' recycling value. We're certainly not holding our breathe for any stampede of recycling entrepreneurs here.

In addition, the News suspends its disbelief here rather too gullibly; and misleads its readers when it says; "The bill puts the onus on bag makers to get the job done." Perhaps they should read the bill where they would find that there's no such onus-all of the onus, in this case the fiscal burden, is on the stores. They are the ones who are left literally holding the bag.

And as we told the NY Sun: "A lobbyist for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, a coalition of small businesses, Richard Lipsky, said yesterday that the bill remained flawed and misappropriates the penalties. "If, in fact, these bags are harmful to the environment, then the people who manufacture and sell them should have some obligation to pay for the recycling process," Mr. Lipsky said. "There is no such obligation in this bill."

What the Council continues to do is to find new burdens to saddle local stores with-while doing precious little to enhance their profitability as the city heads into what looks like a financial down turn. It appears that our legislators, most of whom have almost no business experience, have little concern for the folks whose entrepreneurial efforts pay their salaries; and finance the goods and services that they deem to be essential.

And what will the bill actually accomplish? Well, with no deposit incentive we simply can't see that the bill will put even a small dent in the estimated 1 billion plastic bags that are sold in the city each year. Whole Foods rebates its customers 10 cents for each bag returned; yet the store's return rate is minuscule. Without the incentive the whole experiment is doomed to be an expensive (to the stores) failure.