Are Plastic Bag Taxes Just a Way to Collect More Money?


collection of various plastic bags isolated on white background

At the risk of sounding cynical, it is awfully hard to trust state and local governments and their efforts to reduce plastic waste. So much of the plastic that we produce ends up in landfills, despite the abundance of curbside recycling programs and constant reminders about plastic straws and coffee cups ending up in waterways. It is enough to make you wonder if initiatives like plastic bag taxes are just a way of collecting more money.

 

Whenever government comes up with a new initiative – especially if it involves new taxes – we have to be cognizant of the fact that money talks. It has been said that a politician has never met a tax they didn’t like. How do you argue with that? You have to at least admit the possibility that something like a plastic bag tax is little more than a money grab.

 

An Optional Tax in Virginia

 

Consumers in some portions of Virginia are just being introduced the plastic bag taxes. Thanks to the state legislature, local municipalities and counties were given the green light to collect plastic bag taxes beginning in January 2022. Fairfax and Arlington counties have already jumped on board. So have the cities of Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Roanoke.

 

The law allows the collection of a five-cent tax on every plastic bag provided to retail customers. It would be interesting to note how many retailers in the affected counties and towns go out of their way to inform customers they are being charged for bags. Of even greater interest is the final destination of the collected revenues.

 

Funding Environmental Initiatives

 

According to WJLA News, revenues generated by the new tax will go to fund environmental initiatives in the counties and towns that choose to adopt it. Exactly what those initiatives might look like is unclear. But there is reason to be suspicious.

 

Federal and state legislators have a bad habit of making big promises and not keeping them. They have a habit of disguising revenue-generation tools as initiatives intended for the public good. Time and again, they break their promises and don’t hold to their proposed initiatives.

 

Recycling Can Work

 

The thing about plastic shopping bags is that they can be easily recycled. Doing so just requires a bit of common sense and some effort. In fact, this goes for all plastics. Plastics do not have to be dumped into landfills and forgotten about.

 

The only reason most of our plastics end up in landfills is that our recycling methods are terrible. To illustrate the point, compare curbside recycling to recycling industrial scrap plastic. The former is a money losing proposition while the latter is quite profitable.

 

Curbside recycling is a money loser because the system behind it is inefficient and costly. It is almost as though whoever thought up curbside recycling purposely designed it to fail. On the other hand, companies like Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics utilize a very efficient and cost-effective system for recycling industrial scrap plastic. Moreover, they make good money doing so.

 

Taxes Won’t Change Anything

 

The reality of plastic bag taxes is that they are not going to change anything. If you go to a Fairfax County grocery store and buy ten bags filled with groceries, will the $.50 you’ll pay in bag taxes be enough to dissuade you from using plastic? Probably not.

 

Meanwhile, whatever environmental efforts the generated revenues fund are unlikely to put a dent in plastic bag usage. Ten years from now, we are still going to be debating the merits of plastic bags. Nothing will change because of a five-cent tax.

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