HARRISBURG - An area lawmaker wants Pennsylvania shoppers to BYOB (bring your own bag) or pay a fee.
Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) has introduced a bill aimed at reducing the volume of plastic bags in the trash by imposing a two-cent fee on each new bag used by shoppers.
One penny of the fee would go to state recycling programs, and the other would go to the retailer to help with its recycling.
Leach said his bill - like those already enacted in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington - would encourage customers to shop with reusable bags while reducing landfill waste.
"Two cents is a small price to pay for a cleaner, more vibrant planet," Leach said, who set up an easel with facts about plastic bags and a bag-recycling box outside his Capitol office. "However, our goal is not to collect the fee, but to encourage shoppers to make sustainable choices at the checkout counter."
Statistics show that the typical family uses 60 plastic bags in four trips to the grocery store, he said.
No states have yet to enact such fees, but legislatures in New Jersey, New York, and Vermont are considering implementing them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Lawmakers in Maryland (where at least two municipalities, the City of Takoma Park and Montgomery County, already have bag fees) this year introduced a statewide five-cent-a-bag fee, but it failed to win passage before the session ended this spring.
This week, several New York City Council members proposed a 10-cents-per-bag tax.
Kevin Shrivers, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses of Pennsylvania, called Leach's proposal a "tax scheme" that would hurt average families and benefit only makers of reusable cloth bags - many of them foreign.
"It's a tax on the consumer," Shrivers said. "Leach's assumption is that the plastic bags are used one time and thrown away, but people use those bags over and over."
But Leach said only 1 percent of the 100 billion bags used in this country every year are recycled, while the rest end up in landfills or clogging the oceans and killing wildlife.
"Most shopping trips take a half-hour to complete, but the bag stays around for 1,000 to 5,000 years," Leach said. "Not everything we do is about instant momentary convenience. We have to give some thought to the planet."