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Paper and Plastic

Posted By Russ Roberts On January 5, 2012 @ 11:48 am In Environment,Food and Drink | Comments Disabled

My county, Montgomery County, Maryland, has instituted a new policy [1] requiring retailers to charge customers a nickel for plastic and paper bags. This is allegedly an environmental measure because plastic bags are bad for the Chesapeake Bay. It is harder to understand then, why paper is also taxed. But what I find interesting is the consumer response. Some consumers are bringing their own bags to the store which is understandable. But about 80%, according to the grocery cashier I spoke with last night, are simply taking their carts out to their car, piling the groceries into the trunk one at a time and unloading them piecemeal when they get home. Even allowing for some exaggeration on the part of the cashier about the frequency, this phenomenon seems like a rather costly action in order to save a quarter or two. Is it a protest? Possibly. Or is it an “irrational” response? Wouldn’t most people in the abstract pay 25 cents not to have to carry their groceries in and out of their car a few items at a time?

I wonder if bags will end up getting sturdier as people try to cram them with more stuff in order to avoid the charge. If this decision to avoid using any bags at all is a real phenomenon, I can imagine stores offering you a “free” bag if you bag your own groceries. I suspect that would be a big money saver for the grocery stores. Or maybe they’ll just offer free bags without any strings as a competitive gesture and try to charge a little more somewhere else in the store. Just keeping track of the bag charge is an extra cost.

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