Plastic Carrier Bags – The World Upside Down

In the July edition of Plastics News I read that 12-year-old girl Abby Goldberg from Grayslake, Ill., stool the plastics industry’s thunder — and quite possibly spoiled prospects for an industry-supported bag recycling bill in Illinois.

Her change.org website, which has more than 155,000 signatures to date, is called “Governor Quinn: Don’t Let Big Plastic Bully Me!”

“My name is Abby Goldberg, and as a 12-year-old girl who, after seeing the devastation that millions of plastic bags have caused the environment and ocean life, I made my school project this year to be getting a local ban on single-use plastic shopping bags in my home town Grayslake, IL,” she writes.

“My friends and I were making great progress, until the oil and chemical industry pulled a dirty trick to kill my campaign; these lobbyists used the politicians that they bought to pass a bill that would make it illegal for towns across Illinois to create plastic bag bans! Even worse, they’re trying to make it look like a green environmental bill, by putting in a few ridiculously-low requirements for so-called ‘recycling’ of plastic bags, and are bragging they’re going to make it ‘a model bill for all states!’

“Now it’s in the hands of our Governor to stop them with a veto, but he needs to hear from all of us!”

Last week Goldberg went to Chicago to urge Gov. Pat Quinn to veto the recycling bill that would prohibit any city in the state, with the exception of Chicago, from implementing a plastic bag ban.
The Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune both have reports about the meeting.

The Sun-Times reported: “After receiving the petitions, Quinn wouldn’t reveal whether he would sign the bill. “You’ll have to wait and see”, he said. He pledged to “do things right for the environment”.

We all know that everywhere in the world “bag-ban-bills” are in progress or already implemented. Also in Brazil.
In Brazil the large supermarket chains were very quick to kick the free distribution of plastic bags out of the shop. Not because they care about the environment, but it saves them money.

However a judge in the federal state of São Paulo decided last month that supermarkets should return to distributing free plastic bags to consumers.

The court decision on Monday, 25 June, determined that the necessary steps have to be taken to return to an adequate and sufficient supply of plastics bags in 48 hours. Of course the supermarkets appeal.

Judge Cynthia Torres Cristófaro, of the 1st Court in the capital, decided that it is “prohibited to charge money for bags used for packing the consumer’s purchases” and that companies have 30 days to provide, also free of charge and in sufficient quantity, packaging made of biodegradable material or appropriate paper, also free of charge.

In her decision, Cristófaro said the interruption of free distribution of sacolinhas (plastic bags) “clearly disproportionately burdens the consumer”.
She reasoned that “it is a well-known customary practice that the shopkeeper provides for packaging so that consumers can take the goods they bought with them”.
She, furthermore stated, that the termination of supplying carrier bags by supermarkets to consumers “caused great frustration”.

This court decision might feel as turning the world upside-down, but note that the judge expressly ordered the supermarket chains to supply biodegradable or appropriate paper bags within 30 days and free of charge. Maybe the best solution there is.

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3 responses to “Plastic Carrier Bags – The World Upside Down

  1. I would question the judge’s logic here and also the degree to which they looked into the history of this. Within certain limits (eg ensuring such packaging is biodegradable) I can buy the argument that stores should not be forced to charge for bags. But surely they should not be forced to provide them for nothing either?

    The judge says: “it is a well-known customary practice that the shopkeeper provides for packaging so that consumers can take the goods they bought with them”. Really?

    I can’t speak for the US but in the UK my understanding is that this is a relatively recent custom in the context of hundreds of years of retailing. I’ve seen, for example, photographs (from the 1950s I think) of carrier bag salesmen working the pavements of Oxford Street in London precisely because free-issue carrier bags were not universally available.

    And if physical shops aren’t allowed to charge for packaging then the same should apply to online stores too. While I’m aware they tend to call them ‘shipping charges’ in the US rather than ‘postage and packing’ (as it’s called in the UK) it seems to me that it amounts to the same thing and it isn’t just the costs of the shipping being levied.

    I would have thought the best approach is to encourage (and enforce where possible) the use of environmentally responsible materials but recognise that this won’t entirely solve the issue and leave it up to individual shops whether or not they charge, both for in-store take-home packaging and for the packaging element of P&P.

    After all I strongly suspect the ‘custom’ of providing free bags arose from the need to attract customers rather than any inability of customers to provide their own packaging or accept the cost of the retailer making provision. Retailers should be free to explore various ways of being more environmentally friendly and encouraged to promote the policies they put behind this, one of which might be charging for carrier bags. A number of stores I use make charges and donate any profits to environmental charities so it’s clear they are not motivated by money, for example.

    If enough support can be mustered in a local community for free-issue bags to be seen as unacceptable then it should follow that a majority of stores in the area will respond by adjusting their policy accordingly and ending the supply of free-issue bags. With freedom either way, Abby Goldberg can run her campaign and retailers that disagree can choose to ignore it.

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