From the Daily: State should reconsider bag ban

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 - 3:56pm

Last month, Michigan’s Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed a law that will prevent local governments from taxing or restricting the use of “auxiliary containers,” defined as single or multi-use bags, cups, bottles or other packaging. This comes after Washtenaw County passed an ordinance last June to charge a 10-cent fee for paper and plastic grocery bags that would have gone into effect this April. With this statewide ban, we will continue to see the harmful effects of plastic bags and other non-recyclable containers on the environment and deny the state a possible source of revenue that could be used to counter those effects. While legislators cited a desire to not force a patchwork of laws regarding these containers on state businesses, The Michigan Daily’s editorial board believes the best course of action should be to pass a statewide tax on plastic bags, thereby enforcing one law across the state and discouraging the use of harmful disposable containers.

Plastic bags, one of the auxiliary containers the Michigan bill prohibits regulating, are often not recyclable and can take years to decompose. Due to their shape, plastic bags snag on conveyer belts used to sort recyclable materials before repurposing and hinder machines’ and workers’ progress. They billow out of collection trucks and into the streets, where they become tumbleweeds of the city, twisting in the wind and eventually ending up in tree branches, drainage systems and waterways. From there, wildlife can get trapped in or consume these plastic bags, choking them or filling their stomachs with indigestible plastic. Not to mention, as the Great Lakes State, we must be mindful of our fragile freshwater ecosystem and work to protect this environment and its wildlife at all costs.

This legislation is at odds with Michigan’s Bottle Deposit Law, which added a 10-cent deposit to bottles and cans as a means of decreasing the number of cans and bottles in landfills. This deposit helps fund cleanup, development and pollution-prevention efforts across Michigan. Consumers can earn the 10-cent deposit back by returning the items to return centers in grocery stores, making this legislation friendly for people’s wallets as well as the environment.

Michigan is not the first state to propose legislation surrounding the regulation of single use containers. Other states such as Alabama, Idaho and Missouri have also banned the banning of plastic bags. Washington D.C. has implemented a plastic bag tax, which has generated a large amount of revenue allocated toward environmental and social issues. California voters last year also approved the nation’s first statewide ban on plastic bags, which is estimated to remove 15 billion pieces of plastic each year once the ban takes effect.

A 10-cent tax won’t eliminate plastic bags and their environmental impact — only a well-enforced ban similar to California’s will do that. However, the production of paper bags has a larger carbon footprint than that of the production of plastic bags, which calls into question the degree to which banning plastic bags outright would have a positive impact. Furthermore, a tax would also allow the state to allocate more funds toward cleanup and pollution prevention measures; a statewide ban would eliminate this source of revenue.

Though a 10-cent tax may seem relatively inconsequential to those carrying extra change, this universal tax could have potentially stressful effects on citizens who already struggle to pay for groceries and cannot afford the alternative reusable canvas bags. Still, the tax would force all citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status, to be mindful of their consumption of the non-recyclable bags.

Nonetheless, the bill passed by the Michigan state Senate will leave containers like plastic unregulated and therefore more likely to pollute the environment through production or disposal. A statewide tax, which gets people to think twice about plastic bag use and promotes the recycling of plastic bags, is closer to the ideal solution.