The Washington Post had a nice editorial today regarding the recent proposal in Annapolis, Maryland to ban retailers from distributing plastic bags to shoppers. The idea is to get retailers to offer only recycled paper bags and reusable bags, and thus cut down on the environmental costs of making plastic bags and eliminate the clog of plastic litter that threatens the Chesapeake. Though the Annapolis government certainly has good intentions, the Post rightly points out that paper bags aren’t a particularly green alternative to plastic: they’re costlier to make (plastic bags cost 2 cents each, whereas paper bags cost 5 cents) and create more pollution in the process than recycled plastic. Moreover, banning plastic bags isn’t exactly good for business–retailers can swallow the cost of a ban or reflect the cost in higher prices, but in either case business loses out.
The Post offers a much better solution than a complete plastic bag ban, which is to create incentives for customers and retailers to use and offer reusable bags. Examples include Giant Food, which gives discounts to customers who use reusable bags, and IKEA, which charges customers for disposable bags. (Side note: IKEA was given an A- grade for social and environmental responsibility by Better World Shopper.)
Not only do these solutions encourage customers to go green without the costs associated with a plastic bag ban, but they also raise money that can be spent directly on green causes: IKEA donates all the money they earn from disposable bag sales to local community forests. Whoever said that being pro-business and loving the environment can’t jive?