Paper, Plastic, Or Neither?

As pollution worsens, some Michigan communities are considering whether or not to impose a tax on plastic bags in local retail and grocery stores.


Lauryn Azu

Nowadays it seems as if plastic bags are inescapable. Plastic bags have numerous uses in the average American households aside from holding purchased items. They can be used to line garbage cans, pick up dog doo, to sheath wet umbrellas, and as quick and easy hair-do protectors on rainy and humid days.

However, two Michigan counties are trying to change the public perception of plastic bags, as innocent as they may seem to be. Both Washtenaw and Muskegon counties are planning on imposing a ten cent fee on shoppers for each disposable bag they choose to use in their purchase. It is true that more often than not plastic bags can be found littered on the side of the road, blowin’ in the wind only to wreck havoc on already fragile natural habitats. Plastic bags are some of the worst types of materials to litter, as they are not very biodegradable and can be quite harmful to wildlife. According to plastic bag-ban petitioner Michael Schlaack, “the average person uses 360 single-use plastic bags every year. Despite efforts to expand recycling programs, less than 5% of single-use plastic bags are currently being recycled nationwide. The rest of these bags inevitably end up in our landfill or as litter, clogging storm drain systems, and making their way to the Great Lakes.” In spite of these counties’  noble efforts, very recently the Michigan Senate has passed a bill that would eliminate these counties’ right to impose such a tax on consumers.The main argument is that a law of this kind would be unfair to smaller retailers in these counties that have multiple locations across the state, as they would have to change the way they operate depending on their location. Already many areas on the California coast have taxes in place for plastic bags, and a statewide tax on the usage of single-use plastic bags in retail and grocery stores is currently in the works. The pending tax in California would be the first of its kind anywhere in the nation.  


Frequent shopper Nora Feinberg believes that, “people are going to be against [the bill] no matter what they pay.” Local resident Alexis Ford brings up another interesting point: “In terms of everyday living and being the person who would have to pay that tax, I think eventually we would all just have to get accustomed to getting around it, or pay it. If reusable bags were cheaper, then people would be more willing to use them.” If the bill in the Michigan legislature ends up passing, then the local governments of these counties should consider giving away reusable bags for free and then begin to implement the tax once the use of reusable bags gains popularity. Of course, there will always be those who ignore the tax altogether and continue to use plastic bags freely. It is assumed that the revenue from this tax would go to county waste management facilities in order to accommodate for the growing cost of recycling.
Whatever the resolution of this bill ends up being, it is clear that both our local and state government need to be more proactive about efforts to control pollution. It is also on ourselves, as Michigan residents and citizens of the Earth, to be willing to control our wasteful lives in order to preserve our planet.