Readers Respond

Plastic bags a nuisance but so is a fee [Letter]

Plastic is ubiquitous. It is used in cups, sandwich bags, regular trash bags, produce bundling, newspaper deliveries, product packaging, doggy litter, and the list goes on. While targeted efforts at reducing excess use of plastic shopping bags are beneficial, the implementation of a consumer surcharge is not adequately justified as fair or effective ("Baltimore needs a plastic bag fee," May 7).

Plastic bags offer utility, a lot of it, in the form of easily carrying goods not only from a store but from home and abroad. Their use is not in question, it is primarily their disposal. And most people, if asked, would agree that they have no intent to ever throw a bag into the wind or a stream. Instead, these acts should largely be considered accidents — the kind no amount of revenue will ever fix.


Instead, the reduction in plastic bags found in the environment cited by Washington outlets and the Anacostia River Clean Up would be more wisely attributed to "trash traps" and clean-up and restoration activities. These efforts are certainly more effective with a nearly $2 million budget, as stated. But is generating this revenue from a consumer surcharge on plastic bags the answer? This is nickel-and-diming that not only funds general-purpose clean-ups but the supermarkets as well.

While I agree with reducing plastic bag usage is a positive step, I disagree with tactic of a consumer surcharge. While this represents a short-term environmental benefit, the cost of using alternative "non-disposable" bags is debatable, particularly with several plastic versions that are cheaply offered. If incentives for using fewer bags are required then perhaps start with a limit on customer bags at checkout. Simply posting a limit may have a significant effect. Likewise, education can be achieved by boldly printing advocacy messages on the bags, not unlike surgeon general warnings on cigarettes.


Lastly, if cleanup efforts merit government funding then let this be obtained through a tax, any of which could be imposed directly onto consumers or onto supermarkets, retailers and bag manufacturers. As a minimum, administrative waste of charging a nickel to certain individuals will be saved and costs will be spread across the community at large, all of whom share in our environmental responsibility. Our clean-ups, after all, are not limited to plastic bags but to any of a number of disposable goods that end up in our streets and waterways.

H.J. Jackson, Baltimore


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