One city in Washington State voted yesterday to ban plastic bags in ALL retail outlets. Edmonds, WA has 40,000 residents and its ban will prevent an estimated 8 MILLION plastic bags per year from entering their waste stream.

Can one city make a difference? Should Edmonds have followed Seattle’s lead and imposed a $.20 tax on bags instead?

I’m not so sure that taxing bags is the answer. It seems that there’s a lot less push back and the plastics industry has less of an ability to whip up public opposition when the proposals are to BAN bags rather than tax them. Elected officials can make a case for elimination but, as we saw in NYC, when there’s a fee associated with it, consumers balk.

Let’s face it: Folks just don’t want to pay more. Most people inherently understand the undeniable environmental damage of plastics in our world and will acknowledge that bags are trash. However, when faced with the prospect of paying extra for bags at checkout, they vote with their wallets.

If the goal is to eliminate the problem then banning single use bags rather than taxing them is a much more direct way to achieve that goal. It’s easier to regulate (taxes don’t have to be collected, monitored, etc.) and consumers adjust quickly when plastic bags aren’t an option. They learn to carry a simple expandable tote or to keep a set in the car or backpack.

Leadership and transparency seem to be the answers here. Edmonds Council member Dave Orvis, who holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering, said the science is clear that plastic bags harm the environment. And while he acknowledged that the Edmonds ban won’t solve the problem, he said it was a good start. “Sometimes change requires baby steps,” he said.

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