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‚Äôs 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.