A few local governments have banned retailers from packing groceries and other goods in disposable bags, or taxed consumers who want them. These regulations are typically portrayed as good for the environment because they encourage consumers to reuse bags or replace them with canvas. Writer Judy Gruen is the latest to bemoan the opportunity costs of these regulations, but for some reason she has not stumbled on the obvious, market-based method of circumvention.
Plastic bags are banned. Retailers are required to charge ten cents for all recyclable paper bags they provide as a courtesy to their customers, though certain customers are exempt.
I prepared for the Los Angeles bag ban by hoarding paper and plastic bags from the grocery store. I now have an alarming inventory that spills out from two closets, a corner in my kitchen and the trunk of my car. Sometimes I remember to actually bring the bags with me into the store. More often than not, they suffer the same fate as my coupons and are left uselessly behind.
Gruen’s strategy is a high opportunity cost way to circumvent the carryout bag ban. A much more cost-effective approach would be to purchase a box of disposable carryout bags and keep it in a convenient place in her car. In quantity, these bags cost less than three cents each.
Interestingly, the ordinance does not prevent a retailer from offering such bags for sale. It only forbids them from providing carryout bags as a common courtesy:
SEC. 195.02(A). No Store shall provide to any Customer a Plastic Single-Use Carryout Bag for the purpose of carrying away goods or other materials from the point of sale.
SEC. 195.05. EXEMPTIONS.
Stores that provide Recyclable Paper Single-Use Carryout Bags pursuant to Section 195.03 of this Article shall provide such bags or Reusable Carryout Bags or both, at the Store’s option, free of charge to any Customer participating either in the California Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children pursuant to Article 2 (commencing with Section 123275) of Chapter 1 of Part 2 of Division 106 of the Health and Safety Code or in the Supplemental Food Program pursuant to Chapter 10 (commencing with Section 15500) of Part 3 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.