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“” width=”300″ height=”300″ />A few years ago while I was on a trip to Washington D.C., I stopped to purchase some bottled water
at a local drug store. As I scanned and bagged my purchases at the automated self check-out, the display screen asked me how many bags I was using. I selected “2″ and noticed that 10 cents had been added to my purchase total – a result of the newly implemented D.C. “bag tax.” Granted, 10 cents is not that much to pay, but it is was the principle of the thing. I left the store and walked back to my hotel in DuPont Circle balancing five bottles of water in my arms.
Being that I don't normally carry reusable bags in my luggage when I travel (who does?), I responded in an awkward way by juggling several bottles in my arms. But shoppers and store owners alike respond in other ways to bag taxes and bag bans. In a new NCPA study authored by Baruch Feigenbaum and me,
we found adverse economic effects associated with the Los Angeles County plastic bag ban that took effect in unincorporated areas of the county for most grocery, drug and convenience stores. Incorporated areas did not fall under the plastic bag ban. Most of the bag ban a
reas are in the northern part of the county, but there are several unincorporated areas sprinkled throughout the county as well. So the question is, will shoppers who live in bag ban (unincorporated) areas cross over into incorporated areas to shop if stores are within reasonable proximity? Based on our survey of store managers:
- Four out of 5 stores that fell within the bag ban area reported a loss in sales after the ban took effect, averaging 5.7 percent.
- At the same time, 3 out of 5 stores in incorporated areas that were not affected by the ban reported a dramatic increase in sales, averaging 9 percent.
- Employment at bag ban stores fell 10 percent after the bag ban, despite the fact that the unemployment rate countywide has fallen dramatically over the past two years.
- Employment in incorporated areas that did not have a bag ban increased slightly by more than 2 percent following the ban in unincorporated areas.
Finally, a rather interesting observation: One out of 5 stores in the bag ban area reported an increase in missing shopping carts and shopping baskets after the bag ban took place.
The environmental benefits of plastic bag bans are dubious. Most of the bans imposed by cities and counties rely on inflated numbers and false claims about how much plastic bags contribute to landfill waste (answer: very very little). Furthermore, the reusable bags that are being touted now have been shown to be worse for the environment in terms of life cycle assessment.
But the potential economic effects and the hardship imposed on stores and shoppers are all but ignored by ban proponents. Bottom line: Shoppers like to have choices, and store owners will respond accordingly when those choices hurt their bottom line.