We all know where roads that are paved with good intentions lead. At least all of us who are not members of the New York City Council do.
Exhibit A on the list of well-intentioned bills the Council is considering is the one that would force retailers to charge 10 cents for every bag — paper or plastic, grocery, clothes or hardware — that customers use to take home their purchases.
The goal of course is laudable: to reduce the use of those annoying plastic bags that too often end up sailing around our streets, getting caught up in tree branches, clogging sewers and remaining wherever they land forever if not picked up, because they’re hardly biodegradable. Paper bags are included in the proposal just so that people don’t switch to those instead. What the bill’s sponsors really want is for more people to utilize reusable bags.
That’s something more and more shoppers are doing anyway, and there’d be nothing wrong with the city going on an educational campaign to further encourage their use.
But instead we’re getting a bill that will add to the high cost of living here even more, at a time when most people who don’t earn a City Council salary of $112,500 are still struggling.
And how on Earth would the measure be enforced if it’s enacted? Let’s say you’re getting rung up at the supermarket. Is the cashier supposed to estimate how many bags you’ll need? If you’re shopping for a family for a week or two, you might need 15 or 20 bags, easily. How can the worker tell which it will be? Is he or she not supposed to ring up the next customer until all your purchases are packed up? That would just be another case of the government thwarting efficiencies the private sector created — in this case the nonstop action of busy supermarket checkout lines, where one customer gets rung up before the last one is even done bagging.
And how would the bill address another modern efficiency, the self-checkout lane? Let’s say you pick up some tools at The Home Depot and ring them up yourself. You can do that because everything is bar-coded. Not so plastic bags. And what if one of those sharp tools puts a hole in the bag before you’ve left the store? If you go back and take another one, would that be stealing?
Lastly, shop owners don’t want to add to their customers’ costs. They may figure out ways to pay the dime themselves, and if they don’t, they’ll just be driving more people toward online shopping.
This bill is clearly well-intentioned and aimed at environmental problems worth addressing. But the devil’s in the details, and no one’s addressing those. If it moves forward, the Council must hold hearings and invite consumer and retail advocates to point out all the holes in it, and either repair them or take another approach.