Social engineering, one plastic bag at a time

Starting June 1st, the city of Toronto is mandating that all private businesses charge “a minimum of five cents for each plastic shopping bag requested by the the customer to carry out their purchases”. The City of Toronto, in their benevolent wisdom, also mandate that if the retailer does not offer plastic shopping bags, a free alternative must be offered.

One of the most offensive lines in this document is,

“Retailers are entitled to keep the money received from the plastic bag charge, the money is not remitted to the City of Toronto. While the City does not stipulate what retailers should do with this money, it does support reinvesting the funds in local environmental or community-based initiatives.

You see, it’s not a tax. The city of Toronto is mandating prices.

We also learn,

“Retailers will be prohibited from offering or providing to customers plastic bags that are incompatible with Toronto’s recycling program (e.g., biodegradable plastic bags, compostable plastic bags or plastic bags with metal detailing or grommets, rope or hard plastic handles)”

Two steps forward, two steps back. Biodegradable plastic bags do not conform to Toronto’s bureaucratic vision of perfection.

Today, in the National Post, we learn that the cloth reusable bags offered at Loblaws and now Metro Inc. grocery stores may contain unacceptable levels of microorganisms.

“The main risk is food poisoning,” Dr. Richard Summerbell, research director at Toronto-based Sporometrics and former chief of medical mycology for the Ontario Ministry of Health, stated in a news release. Dr. Summerbell evaluated the study results.

“But other significant risks include skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections,” he stated.

The study found that 64% of the reusable bags tested were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than what’s considered safe for drinking water.

Further, 40% of the bags had yeast or mold, and some of the bags had an unacceptable presence of coliforms, faecal intestinal bacteria, when there should have been 0.

If we are to depend upon the benevolence of the state to protect us from ourselves, will Health Canada mandate that every reusable grocery bag be provided with cleaning instructions and warnings of reuse? How will the competing of agendas play out here? Will the city bow before the environmental lobby at the expense of our health?

Environmentalism is all about the efficient use of resources, and there’s something ironic in the fact that the market (and even the government) has determined that plastic bags cost 5 cents while a reusable bag is 99 cents. Would you reuse that bag 20 times to recoup the effective cost? If so, what effect will the bleach and detergent have on our lakes and rivers? I’m certain that city council will soon force retailers to build in the real cost of a resuable bag for their customers.

But let’s get our focus back. Fundamentally, it is the principle of choice that is under attack here. A retailer should be able to build in the cost of a plastic bag into their prices, just as retailers build in their other costs, such as municipal, provicial and federal taxes.

Actually, that gives me an idea. Businesses of all sizes should organize to list all costs on their receipts and thankfully, the city of Toronto has already started this process (though mandated). When you buy a television from Future Shop, the real price should be shown (cost + profit) and taxes should be added onto the sticker price afterwards. Among others, municipal property taxes, the garbage collection tax, the proprietor’s income tax, taxes that go to climate change awareness, taxes that go to subsidizing your neighbour’s mortgage, the CBC, Via Rail, and the post office. In fact, there are so many hidden costs built in via taxation, we should break down the tax burden for the customer so that they can then change their behaviour about government too.

I think that the city of Toronto is onto something here. If we show Canadians the damage that they are really doing to themselves and others perhaps then we’d have less tax, and less need for meddling city coucillors and tax collectors at all levels.

Comments

comments

  • Dougie

    Oh the city of Toronto, acting on behalf of all Torontonians as the martyr for the environment. They must really care about our planet!

    Or perhaps, the city of Toronto is making it far less convenient for Torontonians to grocery shop – an act that is essential to daily life – because it is more 'convenient' for the city of Toronto. Mandatory grocery bag costs going to “local environmental or community-based initiatives,” (aka: the city of Toronto), which of course grocery stores will be forced to put the money towards, to sound more humanitarian and environmentally-conscious than their competitors, and appeal to more sucker customers. And now these holier-than-plastic fabric bags are likely to make Torontonians sick. And who gets the money when the people get sick? The city of Toronto.

    Sure, the city of Toronto is obviously a holy environmental prophet who obviously knows what's best for us, the obviously naive (and soon to be ill) little people, but it's useful here to follow the money…

  • http://www.bluelikeyou.com/ Joanne (T.B.)

    Public health has never been the #1 concern of environmentalists. Think curly light bulbs – toxic.

    However, thanks for posting this Stephen. I love your idea of the customer seeing exactly whose responsible. And it should be highly publicized around the time of the next municipal elections.

  • Liz J

    So, it's all about cleaning up the environment, good excuse, very trendy. It's using the same train of thought we can't use anything that will kill dandelions or other weeds on our lawns so there goes our nice green grass in favour of weeds of all description. That along with trekking home from grocery shopping with leaky paper bags, soiling our clothes and cars. All to save the environment while making our lives more stressful to no avail, it's a bloody sham of the highest order.

    Yeah, social engineering and making life miserable are a team.

    Wonder if they'll supply us with all the drugs we'll need to live with the allergies these noxious weeds cause so many people?

  • Bec

    Type your comment here.
    Socialists=social engineering. Whatever happened to responsible parenting=responsible decision making?

    All of this environmental crap, I have been doing for years, my parents before me, my children… without laws and rules and socialist rants.
    It is like they think they invented responsible, conscientious behaviour.

    No, in fact what they have created is an entire generation that is so dependant on, controls, committees, funding, bureaucracy, blah, blah,blah, that no one can think and behave without being told how to think and behave by some stupid government body.
    So if it wasn't part of the robotic socialist programming, it wasn't taught or done.

    After all, telling a kid to pick up their litter on the playground, may be construed as discriminatory.
    It is all part of the politically correct crowd and has gone to the extreme.

    I already use my own bags/boxes to shop but be damned if I will shop anywhere that has banned them or charges. I buy their product, which pays their employees salaries so they can provide me with a damn bag or I will shop elsewhere, period.

  • Nick Kadysh

    I agree completely. On top of that, I think it's high time that we embed taxes in all sticker prices. There's no reason a sales tax should be hidden from the consumer.

  • Anne in sw ON

    There's a certain futility to this plastic grocery bag dilemma. Many of us use these bags to contain the household waste in our kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garages. Pet owners use them to scoop and discard pet waste. Without them the consumer will simply have to buy replacement bags. Where's the savings for the landfills? Bags will still be needed and businesses will still produce them. It's an additional cost for the consumer who must also buy bags to lug their groceries out of the stores. A double whammy for Joe & Mary Taxpayer.

  • Laura

    Just wondering…

    How many plastic bags could you make with the energy required to make one re-usable bag?

    And how much energy would be consumed washing a re-usable bag before each use compared to the energy it takes to produce a plastic bag?

    If I use plastic grocery bags for other uses (such as following my dog around or for garbage), and they are no longer available, how much energy am I saving if I now have to go out and buy plastic bags expressly for these purposes?

    Maybe its better to ban these bags. Maybe its worse. I don’t know. But something doesn’t seem to add up. Shouldn’t we at least try to base the rules on what is actually better for the environment rather than what appears to be better?

  • Laura

    Just wondering…

    How many plastic bags could you make with the energy required to make one re-usable bag?

    And how much energy would be consumed washing a re-usable bag before each use compared to the energy it takes to produce a plastic bag?

    If I use plastic grocery bags for other uses (such as following my dog around or for garbage), and they are no longer available, how much energy am I saving if I now have to go out and buy plastic bags expressly for these purposes?

    Maybe its better to ban these bags. Maybe its worse. I don’t know. But something doesn’t seem to add up. Shouldn’t we at least try to base the rules on what is actually better for the environment rather than what appears to be better?

  • Anne in sw ON

    There’s a certain futility to this plastic grocery bag nonsense. Many of us use our grocery bags in our kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garages to hold household refuse. Without them we will be forced to purchase bags for that purpose. Many pet owners also use their plastic grocery bags to pick up and contain their pet’s waste. They, too, will have to buy special bags for that purpose. Where’s the savings for the environment in that? Where’s the extra cost for the consumer coming from? It’s another money grabbing exercise for big business.

  • Anne in sw ON

    There’s a certain futility to this plastic grocery bag nonsense. Many of us use our grocery bags in our kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garages to hold household refuse. Without them we will be forced to purchase bags for that purpose. Many pet owners also use their plastic grocery bags to pick up and contain their pet’s waste. They, too, will have to buy special bags for that purpose. Where’s the savings for the environment in that? Where’s the extra cost for the consumer coming from? It’s another money grabbing exercise for big business.

  • Anne in sw ON

    There’s a certain futility to this plastic grocery bag dilemma. Many of us use these bags to contain the household waste in our kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garages. Pet owners use them to scoop and discard pet waste. Without them the consumer will simply have to buy replacement bags. Where’s the savings for the landfills? Bags will still be needed and businesses will still produce them. It’s an additional cost for the consumer who must also buy bags to lug their groceries out of the stores. A double whammy for Joe & Mary Taxpayer.

  • Anne in sw ON

    There’s a certain futility to this plastic grocery bag dilemma. Many of us use these bags to contain the household waste in our kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garages. Pet owners use them to scoop and discard pet waste. Without them the consumer will simply have to buy replacement bags. Where’s the savings for the landfills? Bags will still be needed and businesses will still produce them. It’s an additional cost for the consumer who must also buy bags to lug their groceries out of the stores. A double whammy for Joe & Mary Taxpayer.

  • Cat

    The whole place has gone nuts! We're being hijacked by environmentalist propaganda – if it's not Miller and his shopping bags, it Dalton and wanting to be everyone's nanny.

    How did we raise generations of suckers? Couldn't have been the baby boomers getting sucked into this because boomers motto was to not trust the administration and fight the bureaucracy.

    What the hell's happened?

  • alan

    Who wouldn’t love to own a grocery store or similar that is in Toronto on the border of Vaughan, Mississauga, or Pickering?
    Why pay for bags at the Loblaws on the south side of Steeles Ave. when you can get them for free at the Metro on the north side of Steeles Ave.?

    I, for one, have avoided shopping at Loblaws since they instituted the $0.05 bag charge waaaay ahead of schedule. Of course, five cents ain’t much at all, but it was enough to get me to switch supermarkets.

  • alan

    Who wouldn’t love to own a grocery store or similar that is in Toronto on the border of Vaughan, Mississauga, or Pickering?
    Why pay for bags at the Loblaws on the south side of Steeles Ave. when you can get them for free at the Metro on the north side of Steeles Ave.?

    I, for one, have avoided shopping at Loblaws since they instituted the $0.05 bag charge waaaay ahead of schedule. Of course, five cents ain’t much at all, but it was enough to get me to switch supermarkets.

  • http://www.bluelikeyou.com/ Joanne (T.B.)

    It's a scam. Check this out:

    “And since kitchen catchers contain 82% more plastic, at the end of the day, more plastic will be consumed and end up in landfill.”

    So, the net result is more plastic in the landfill that is even more difficult to break down.

  • http://thealbertaardvark.blogspot.com/ Ardvark

    Hmm, If a store does not have plastic bags for sale @ 5 cents a pop it has to provide free paper bags/boxes to their customers. Correct me if I am wrong here, but is this not an incentive to get rid of all paper bags and other such alternatives and instead use the evil plastic bags to make an extra buck or two off of the customer?

    How Is this supposed to reduce the number of plastic bags?

    Nuts.

  • http://thealbertaardvark.blogspot.com/ Ardvark

    Hmm, If a store does not have plastic bags for sale @ 5 cents a pop it has to provide free paper bags/boxes to their customers. Correct me if I am wrong here, but is this not an incentive to get rid of all paper bags and other such alternatives and instead use the evil plastic bags to make an extra buck or two off of the customer?

    How Is this supposed to reduce the number of plastic bags?

    Nuts.

  • http://www.ripefruit.ca/ steve81

    They give “biodegradable plastic bags” as an example of bags that aren't compatible with recycling. That's true, except for EPI oxo-biodegradable bags:

    http://www.epi-global.com/en/media/News071101.pdf
    http://www.epi-global.com/en/media/criqreport07

    I looked at the Toronto by-law and it does not contain any exception for these biodegradable bags, which are fully compatible with recycling…

  • Omanator

    Ardvarl/ It's not only to reduce plastic bags. It is the money maker for World Wild Life and other leftist organizations. Apart from that Loblaws can use these ” donations” as a tax credit. As long as we pay.
    I happen to like Loblaws however, I refuse to buy plastic bag because the WWF has become a mouthpiece for the Al Gore's of this world. Should they refuse to use my cloth bags.( I wash everything carefully) then I forget Loblaws and go somewhere else. But their is no doubt, that the liftist socialist are on a high roll in North America.

  • Murasak

    I'll just shop in Mississauga.

  • http://www.gottoknit.blogspot.com/ Kristen

    I kind of want these bags around, at least the ones with nice colors. I use them to crochet with: http://gottoknit.blogspot.com/2008/02/plastic-b

    They're still free in the States, and we get a two cent deduction for every reusable bag we bring in. I total at 12 cents a week (for every $1.00 bag I bring in).

    As far as green, some articles state that plastic is actually *better* for the environment than paper:
    http://reason.org/news/show/1003006.html
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09

    Go plastic!

  • Christopher-Peter: Maingot

    This plastic bag “legislation” or “ACT” is just another “green plan” marketing plan, and again, it’s simply targeting consumers and dollars. Does anyone truly believe that they (consumer) were getting these plastic bags from the stores (retailers) for free before? Yea! They love you (retailers + plastic bag manufacturers)…the consumer. And, you don't seriously believe “they” were giving away the bags, before the “ACT” right? No! You were paying for it, before, and, you'll simply pay for it again…this time, more than before too…if you don't have a re-usable, get one, and out-law plastic bags all together. Some people are rich, and don't care about the 5 cents for a plastic bag, or the environment for that matter!

  • Stephen

    So when can we expect the first lawsuit levelled because somebody was forced to use a tainted filthy bag???

  • Stephen

    When do we see the first lawsuit by someone who gets sick as a result of being forced to used reusable bagss…..?

  • Christopher-Peter: Maingot

    We could always have our government up the anti of tax dollars, from the current $11 million, to what ever, so someone can work on another vaccine. Perhaps the drug companies will come up with another pill for the cure of tainted grocery bag syndrome. Are you presently prepared for the coming lawsuits from all those who are currently forced to ingest artificially fluoridated drinking water, especially in Toronto? The common medium for that process is Hydrofluorosilicic acid. This toxic industrial waste chemical is generated from the smoke stack scrubbers, of the phosphate and aluminum industries (pollution) and, these companies would otherwise have to pay about a billion odd dollars per year, to dispose of this toxic pollution (dangerous goods). So through the help of our governments, all of them, they came up with the brilliant idea….Let$ dump this crap into our drinking water supplies. The result of ingesting fluoride is ending up with a progressive disease known as fluorosis. HEALTH CANADA knows this problem exists but continues to promote the practice. I had to go off the topic of plastic bags, hopefully to cement a point for all of us. We are always instituting “cures” or searching for them, even though they are right under our noses…we never focus on looking at the “causes.” SICK CARE versus HEALTH CARE. All this government legislation and or ACTS, especially this plastic bag one, is simply adding to our political suffocation,

  • Name

    I'm pleased to see that someone understands the biological hazard of reusable bags. Where is the social education for a change such as this?

    Now, to close the loop (which the Toronto politicians appear unable to do). What do most people use the plastic grocery bags for after they bring their groceries home? Garbage bags. So now, if they practice Miller's environmental responsibiltity agenda, they must purchase plastic garbage bags. So, basically, we not diverting plastic from the land fills at all (in Michigan). Just another political boondoggle. Unfortunately, being a resident of Mississauga, this nonsense has managed to precipitate to us.

    We use biodegradable household waste bags (why not grocery bags?), there are paper bags available (remember the 60's/70's?).

    Someone is missing the boat here. Unfortunately, it would appear that it's J.Q. Public.

  • Name

    I'm pleased to see that someone understands the biological hazard of reusable bags. Where is the social education for a change such as this?

    Now, to close the loop (which the Toronto politicians appear unable to do). What do most people use the plastic grocery bags for after they bring their groceries home? Garbage bags. So now, if they practice Miller's environmental responsibiltity agenda, they must purchase plastic garbage bags. So, basically, we not diverting plastic from the land fills at all (in Michigan). Just another political boondoggle. Unfortunately, being a resident of Mississauga, this nonsense has managed to precipitate to us.

    We use biodegradable household waste bags (why not grocery bags?), there are paper bags available (remember the 60's/70's?).

    Someone is missing the boat here. Unfortunately, it would appear that it's J.Q. Public.

  • Bagman

    Stephen:

    THE CHALLENGE:
    Propose a market solution that deals with the negative externalities currently associated with plastic shopping bags.

    THE CONSTRAINTS:
    You can use state intervention, but preferably only in terms of adding user fees to existing public services or by providing some sort of tax incentive. However, overall bonus points will be given to solutions with little or no lasting government interference in the market and as few distortions to overall tax neutrality as possible.

    THE PRIZE:
    My admiration?

    I'm serious, though. I recognize that the bag law leads to silly outcomes (banning biodegradable bags) and overall deadweight loss without any ecological gain (presuming that the lion's share of retailers will just add the 5 cents and continue doing what they're doing).

    But given that these bags are tremendously wasteful (and that the financial cost of disposal and ecological costs of plastic waste are public), what market solution exists to solve this?

    Don't wave your hands and say 'entrepreneurs will fix it.' They haven't yet. I'm having trouble thinking of how they could, in the face of what seems like an intractable collective action dilemma.

    Thoughts?

    (Not trolling BTW)