Nanny State of the Week: Chicago tries again with plastic bag tax

Posted: Nov 28, 2016 12:32 PM
Nanny State of the Week: Chicago tries again with plastic bag tax
Part 105 of 105 in the series Nanny State of the Week

Some of the biggest cities in the United States have taken it upon themselves to wage a war on plastic bags under the guise of environmentalism. But, as many have continued to discover, plastic bags are not the scourge they imagine, and their nanny policies continue to fail.

Chicago is the latest to go back to this well.

Earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget was approved by the city council with a 7-cent tax on plastic bags – 5 cents of which will go to the city. While bag taxes like these are sold as an environmental necessity, studies in multiple locales have shown that bag taxes rarely do much environmental good, and cities simply use the money raised to plug budget holes.

Plastic bag fees are merely a stealth tax hike that disproportionately hits families that go grocery shopping more frequently.

Courtesy of Flickr user troykelly

BAG IT: Chicago’s new seven-cent bag tax is unlikely to do any good, and merely hurt frequent shoppers.

This is Chicago’s second bag grab.

In 2015, the city instituted a plastic bag ban that was based on the thickness of the bags — justified then as now by environmental concerns. It failed miserably. Consumers simply switched to using thicker bags and didn’t reuse them frequently.

So now Chicago has taken the tax route.

As has been the case elsewhere, the sevens cents per bag is not likely to change anyone’s behavior, but it’ll raise some money to be used for the mayor’s pet projects.

A landmark audit of Washington, D.C.’s five-cent bag tax found that it had little to no effect on anyone’s behavior. Indeed, bag taxes must be in the punitive category – Ireland’s 30-cent tax is the model here – in order to actually nudge consumers to change the way they shop.

The D.C. study, reported on by the Washington Post, found that the money raised by the bag tax — supposedly earmarked for environmental causes — was being spent on personnel costs and childrens’ field trips. What’s more, it was found that the bag tax had contributed little to nothing to reducing plastic waste.

On top of not achieving the goal for which they are designed and not paying for the programs they are supposed to fund, phasing out single-use plastic bags could lead to a public health crisis.

Reusable bags tend to be unsanitary, which causes major problems when they’re being used to tote fresh produce and other groceries. A study in the journal Food Protection Trends found that food-borne illnesses could skyrocket with the increased adoption of reusable bags.

The study found that 99 percent of reusable bags tested contained bacteria; the figure was 0 percent in new bags, or single-use plastic bags. These bacteria were frequently dangerous, with E. Coli being shockingly common in reusable bags.

So Chicago’s bag nannies are taking your money under false pretenses, spending it on something unrelated to its stated purposes, failing to solve the problem they claim they’re addressing, and possibly making you sick in the process.