The intent of any ordinance should reflect the concerns of the parties who are most affected. In the case of banning single-use, carry-out plastic bags we should consider what is best for the consumer, our business community and the environment when making a significant policy change. In this case, the South Lake Tahoe City Council missed the mark on all three.
Simply banning single-use plastic carryout bags without applying a modest charge on paper bags ignores the needs of the business community by adding an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 in annual cost per supermarket. In an industry that continues to operate on a 1 to 3 percent profit margin, grocery retailers are forced to pass this added cost onto consumers — hurting their pocket books during these delicate economic times.
By ignoring the tried and true method of the “ban/charge” model, the council turned a blind eye to municipal studies that show consumers make a one-for-one switch from plastic bags to paper bags when there is not a deterrent charge on paper. This results in even a greater impact on the environment — dramatically increasing greenhouse gasses.
Nearly all of the 80-plus municipalities in California that have adopted plastic bag bans also have enacted a charge on paper bags — encouraging consumers to use reusables. Legislators, environmentalists and businesses carefully crafted this proven formula. We know this works. And we know that “plastic bag only” models don’t.
South Lake Tahoe cannot afford to reinvent the wheel. Rather than forcing businesses and consumers to bear the costs of paper bags we must learn from the experience of other cities including San Francisco who amended its ordinance to include a charge on paper after businesses struggled. A misguided ordinance such as this offsets the environmental importance of phasing out single-use plastic bags.
Ronald K. Fong
President/CEO, California Grocers Association
Chair of TahoeChamber Government Affairs Committee