Almost four years ago I wrote a column about plastic bags. It was called “Trashing poo bags.” In it I wrote:
“I’d like to propose that as a society we resolve to make this world a better place to be. This is not one of those, “Help the homeless, feed the poor, cloth the naked,” types of columns. No, what I’d like to see is very simple. I’d like to see this city, and perhaps this state, if we can get someone in the state Capitol to pay attention, to tax the use of those horrible plastic bags at the grocery store. Those super thin, non-recyclable, plastic bags are a wonder. They can hold 30 pounds of potatoes, but if I have a carton of milk and a dozen eggs, the handles break.”
That column resulted in me meeting with the president of the lobbying group for the plastic film manufacturers who told me of the great strides the industry is making in recycling and education of the users. I recall him telling me that the grocery stores are trained in the proper use and filling requirements of the bags and that the practice of double bagging is generally not necessary. Well, I still get my bags double bagged at Ralphs — even when I request them not to.
I received feedback from our local City Councilmember Kevin McKeown who told me the council was working on a proposal and that he was the leader of the charge. I reviewed the proposal by then Assemblymember Lloyd Levine who wanted to implement a proposal for the reduction of use and recycling of the bags.
When I proposed a tax on the bags, even though I used them prolifically for the mandated clean up of my dog’s droppings. I thought that it would be a good idea to have a $1 tax per bag.
At the time I wrote, “In Santa Monica there are about 86,000 residents, not including the daytime inflow of office workers and tourists. At an average of 300 bags a year, that means about 26 million bags a year are used. We could definitely cut down on the use of those things. I’d like to see the tax be $1 per bag and the funds earmarked for purchasing green space in the city. I’m reasonably certain that a tax of $1 per bag would decrease the amount of the bags in significant ways almost immediately.”
I still think that If we taxed them at $1 per bag, and that caused usage to drop by 95 percent, we would reduce our annual use by 24.5 million bags. The remaining usage would generate about $1.3 million — just enough to buy a corner lot somewhere in the city.
The numbers of bags that are used are staggering when you consider it on a statewide basis. But if we did this on a statewide level, here’s what the numbers would look like. With a population of almost 36 million people, we use almost 11 billion of those bags a year, probably more. If use dropped by 95 percent and we had $1 tax per bag, we could raise $540 million. I think it would make great legislation. It would accomplish two goals that are hard to argue with, in a non-confrontational manner.
I went to the state Web site to determine what the status was of Assemblymember Levine’s proposal, as he was termed out in 2008, it turns out, nothing has happened. Well, that’s not totally true, there are a pair of proposals in the Assembly and state Senate to promote a recycling plan, one of which has a per bag cost of $0.001. Yes, you read that correctly, one tenth of one cent.
I did however find that the Assembly has continued to be consumed with the proper regulation of excrement. Assemblymember Dymally introduced AB 311 in the 2007-08 session calling for the regulation of colon-hydrotherapists, students and establishments. Yup, this is what we send them to Sacramento for. It also established a board for the review of practices and procedures, setup a fund that must be contributed to by the practitioners of hydrotherapy. Thankfully this idea seems to have been flushed.
Back to our little burg, I’d like to see the city of Santa Monica create a tax that I could stand behind with full support. It’s been years, and the only thing we have to show for the improvement is carry-out plastic has been reduced — a noble cause no doubt — but seriously, can we deal with these bags already? It’s a much bigger problem than the carry-out box for my take home part of my amazingly huge omelet at the Omelet Parlor.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at email@example.com or (310) 664-9969.