Should flimsy plastic bags be banned or taxed?
A single discarded bag can wreak havoc on a farm
Members of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest agricultural advocacy group, support legislation encouraging retailers to use paper or reusable shopping bags to reduce the problems litter from plastic bags cause farmers.
Jodi Roth argues that plastic bag litter accounts for only 0.6 percent of litter and 0.5 percent of the solid-waste stream. The damages a single discarded bag can wreak on a farm, however, outstrip those percentages.
Virginia farmers and foresters contribute $79 billion annually to the state’s economy and provide more than 500,000 jobs. Why would anyone endorse the use of an item that can potentially harm the state’s largest industry?
Plastic bags in farm fields have killed cattle. Beef cattle are Virginia’s second largest agricultural commodity — generating $373 million in cash receipts for the state’s economy in 2010. Plastic bags also damage equipment and pose safety hazards to farmers who try to remove them from machinery.
For Virginia cotton growers, who contributed $51 million to Virginia’s economy in 2010, plastic bags create a serious economic problem. The plastic from bags in cotton fields gets shredded as cotton is picked and ultimately renders finished textiles useless. Mills don’t want to buy cotton from farms where plastic is mixed into the fiber.
Paper bags are biodegradable and don’t cause the same problems if they end up in farm fields. And when timber — a renewable resource — is harvested for paper, foresters plant more trees.
Increased use of paper or reusable shopping bags will reduce farm damages caused by plastic bags and help keep the state’s agriculture industry strong.
Stoneman is associate director of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
Plastic bags save time, money and the environment
All litter can be a detriment to the environment, but plastic bags make up only a tiny fraction of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. Plastic bag manufacturing and recycling also provide 2,000 jobs to hard-working Virginians.
The Farm Bureau is pushing less sustainable and environmental options such as paper and reusable bags. But plastic bags produce significantly fewer greenhouse gases than paper or reusable bags.
Reusable bags cannot be recycled and are mostly made from foreign oil and are imported from Asia, and they have also been proven to harbor dangerous bacteria.
Plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable and are made into dozens of other products such as playground equipment, backyard decks and fences.
We agree with the Farm Bureau that existing litter laws should be enforced to the fullest, but banning or taxing plastic bags is not the answer and will have zero impact.
Encouraging plastic bag recycling, which has grown nearly 55 percent since 2005, is a better way to capture plastic bags and other film product.
The effects on retailers and consumers if plastic bags are banned or taxed:
– Retailers stand to lose. When they have to switch from plastic to the more expensive paper alternative, they need to either raise prices or take a hit to their bottom lines.
– It takes much more room to store paper bags, limiting warehouse space for other items. At a time when food prices are up 8.5 percent from 2009 and consumers are already tightening their belts, an added burden in this economy simply isn’t good policy.
– Would consumers pay the bag tax out of pocket? Will they have to sacrifice groceries to pay the tax?
– Would a ban impact how much consumers paying with SNAP will be able to purchase at one time if they cannot afford to pay for reusable shopping bags?
– This would significantly slow down the checkout process, with clerks having to stop and count bags before closing a transaction.
Roth is director of government affairs for the Virginia Retail Merchants Association.