Tilting at plastic bags

Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham wants to impose a fee on use of plastic bags because he’s  “fed up with driving down the streets, noticing plastic bags plastered to the needles of what would otherwise be attractive desert plants.”  This fee, essentially a tax on food and other items, is supposed to discourage use.  Cunningham’s quest will probably work as well as Rio Nuevo, the City’s grossly mismanaged attempt at urban renewal.  Just how will a fee on plastic bags solve the problem of littering?

Plastic bags are recyclable; some are even biodegradable.  According to the Arizona Daily Star, “Tucson currently requires grocery stores to provide recycling collection for plastic bags.”  Even easier is to dispose of the bags in your home recycle container.

The war on plastic bags is a current eco-fad.  Other cities charge fees, some even ban plastic bags.  But, alternatives to plastic bags present their own problems.  Paper bags pose a littering problem too and use up trees.

Some people bring their own reusable bags, especially for groceries.  But that too, has problems.

Bags made from non-woven polypropylene, the most commonly used material in reusable grocery bags, have been shown to contain excessive lead which can pose a danger.  Also a study by Canadian microbiologist Dr. Richard Summerbell found that unless you wash reusable fabric grocery bags after each use, they can harbor unacceptably high levels of bacteria, yeast, and mold.  “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,” according to the National Post, Canada.

By the way, a British study of all types of bags found that plastic bags were superior because they take less energy and water to make and less energy to recycle, as well as taking up less space in landfills (link).

I suspect that some of the bags seen plastered to cactus needles are fugitives from garbage trucks and land fills.

It seems that Cunningham is following the second law of government institutions: “All problems will be solved with infusions of money taken by coercion from the people.” -Mark David Ledbetter

As for Mr. Cunningham’s concern about aesthetics, I have just one word: POTHOLES.


  1. Plastic bags are not allowed in tucson recycle bins so they end up in the garbage .Who’s fault is this?Remember when they got rid of paper bags because the trees were supposedly in danger.Then when they realized plastic bags were not the answer they advised everyone to use the reusable bags which are now a public health concern.I think all our politicians and “green”proponents are all nuts.Go back to the paper bags.They are easily recyclable and biodegradable.

  2. Plastic bags are not part of the Tucson Recycles program. Therefore Tucson DOESN’T recycle. They only want #1 and #2 plastics because there is more profit in those. Tucson DOESN’T recycle. It’ all about the money.  A great many of the plastic bags flying around and eventually stuck to a cactus come from the beds of pick up trucks. After purchase the item is thrown into the front of the truck and the bag into the back to fly out going down the street. Out of sight, out of mind. Also bagged items with, receipt of purchase, going south of the border are subject to duty. No bag, no receipt, no duty.                

  3. An aside RE: Mr. DuHamel’s recent article on the local version of the Christmas Cactus.   There are a number of these cacti to be seen on the Romero Ruin trail in Catalina State Park.  More than once, I wondered about them and I enjoyed the article which was, like all Mr. DuHamel’s articles on the natural world, very informative. 

  4. Now, back to work:  Yes, there are problems associated with plastic bags, paper bags and reusable bags.  As of now, the “one shining path” is unclear to me.  What is clear to me regarding grocery bags, politicians, energy demands, the Gold Standard and all manner of social issues is that the “Free Market” is the answer to none of these problems.  Like “Free Shipping”, it sounds good until you realize that there ain’t nothing “free” about it. 

  5. I like the charge a free market it is not but on the other hand I as a tax payer get charged for picking up after the slobs.
    Put a big charge on plastic bags.

      1. Didn’t doing the same to glass bottles help the littering problem 50 years ago?  If there were refunds to return the bags, I could see a positive impact on the issue.

      2. Coming here from Michigan many years ago, I remember when Michigan passed a bottle deposit law.  This was about 30 years ago, but I remember that business interests fought it all the way.  I also remember that it didn’t take long for the problem of empty bottle litter to be resolved.  Seems that even just a nickle out of their pockets was enough to get people to return the bottles.  So, if Michigan did this 30 years ago, we should only have to wait about another 70 years for Arizona to catch up.


  6. Plastic bags are a major problem. They not only litter the streets, they wind up all over harming and killing sea life and wildlife throughout the world. People need to accept more personal responsibility. Plastic bags also are only biodegradable under the right conditions. They require light and moisture and even that takes time. Canvas or other types of reusable bags are easy and I have never heard of anyone getting sick from contamination by using them.

  7. All Council candidates campaign as ‘business friendly, jobs jobs jobs’.  The first significant action Councilman Cunningham takes is to make things more difficult for business.

  8. Good news everyone! Next year, around june I think Tucson will have the facility to recycle plastic bags. A new facility is being built to accomodate more things that can be recycled. So stop your moaning and just recycle in the normal way. Find sometning more worthwhile to moan about, like the lack of jobs and lack of affordable health and dental care around here!

  9. Plastic bags should be banned.  No bag litter.  No bag tax.  Going shopping?  Bring a bag.  Unless the tax is ridiculously high it won’t change peoples’ behavior.  The tax is nothing but a government money grab that won’t alleviate the problem.  If Mr. Cunningham’s true concern is trash, why not a real solution instead of a new government revenue stream?       

  10. What’s wrong with virtual bags? We’ve gotten by since Nov ’08 with virtual leadership.
    Why not bags?

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