Michigan may be on its way to joining 16 states with a “uniformity” law that would stop a patchwork of local taxes on plastic and paper bag use. Michigan Senate Bill 853 was sent to Governor Snyder December 8 for his signature. If he signs it then Washtenaw County will be prohibited from enforcing a 10-cent fee it is poised to impose on each bag given at restaurants or store checkout lanes. Other counties, such as Muskegon County, are looking to follow suit.
While the arguments in favor of the fees may have been fueled by noble intentions, penalizing consumers and business is not the best way to promote sensitivity toward the environment.
A patchwork of local taxes could catch consumers without reusable bags off-guard. Of those who are aware of the fees, some may choose stores in areas without them. But consumers with no transportation, likely those with low-incomes, would be stuck. Businesses, too, would be hurt. Not only might they risk losing customers to fee-free areas, but they face having to absorb costs their competitors in other parts of the state would not.
Voluntary cooperation is the best way to meaningfully change societal behavior. Even where bag fees or bans are not in place, consumers already willingly choose to use reusable bags. And a lot of people already reuse plastic bags too. There is no reason to believe this practice won’t continue to grow. More often than not, coercive measures, such as bag fees, create negative unintended consequences that mitigate the potential good the rule meant to achieve in the first place.
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