September 9, 2019

WE ARE ALL NEOCONOMIST NOW:

Do plastic bag taxes or bans curb waste? 400 cities and states tried it out. (Matthew Zeitlin, Aug 27, 2019, Vox)

A study of the law by Homonoff and researchers at the University of Chicago and consulting firm ideas42 found that after the new policy went into effect, "Customers were much less likely to use a disposable bag, and switched to reusable bags or no bags at all." Before the tax, about 80 percent of Chicago consumers used disposable bags and fewer than 10 percent used no bags at all. In the year after it went into effect, "the tax led to a large decrease in the proportion of consumers using a disposable bag, with roughly half of consumers switching to reusable bags while the rest opted for no bags at all."

According to Homonoff's research in both Chicago and Montgomery County, Maryland, "very small financial incentives can lead to big behavioral change," she said. The fact that small fees, 5 or 7 cents, can lead to a big reduction in disposable bag use suggests that a sizable portion of the population is perfectly happy to use a reusable bag or not use a bag at all, and need just the smallest push to get there. Homonoff said that in her surveys, people would tell her, "I have a reusable bag in my car. Now I bring it into the store and actually use it."

"As long as there is a fee component in place, that really drives people to not want to get that bag," Romer said. "You see people walking out with something pressed under the arm."

In Montgomery County, which implemented a 5-cent bag fee, the portion of customers observed by researchers at eight stores in the county who used disposable bags went from 82 percent to 40 percent, while the number of bags per trip also fell, according to Homonoff's research. Beyond any environmental effects, these policies also seem to be changing the culture around single-use plastic, which many people know is environmentally damaging but still need a slight nudge to change their behavior. Alongside the bans, there's been a surge of public awareness of the persistence of plastic waste and the folly of recycling it.

And these policies have real effects downstream -- literally. San Jose, California, implemented its Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance in 2012, which included a ban on single-use plastic and a 10-cent fee for paper, and found dramatic decreases in "bag litter" in the city's creeks and waterways. "The litter surveys demonstrated a reduction in bag litter of approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system," a city environment and transportation committee report read, "60 percent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent in city streets and neighborhoods, when compared to data collected from 2010 and/or 2011 (pre-ordinance) to data from 2012 (post-ordinance)."

What drove the decrease in litter wasn't just more people using more reusable bags -- although that happened -- but also a rise in using no bags. Reusable bag use jumped from about 4 percent of bags, the city said, to 62 percent, while the portion of people who used no bag doubled, and the average number of bags used per customer fell from three to fewer than one.

The Ferguson Foundation, a Washington, DC-area nonprofit group that organizes cleanup efforts in and around the Potomac River, found that after DC implemented a 5-cent fee in 2010 on single-use bags, the number of plastic bags removed by volunteers dropped by almost three-quarters.

Nothing suits a Puritan Nation better than sin taxes.

Posted by at September 9, 2019 12:00 AM

  

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