San Jose’s Plastic Bag Ban: Good or Bad for Business?

Confession: I have no less than 1 million reusable shopping bags.  I’ve had them for years.  With every blogging event, I get a handful more.  And yet it took my city to outright ban plastic bags to get me to remember to bring my one million bags to the store.

Confession: I’m too cheap to pay 10 cents for a paper bag.

When the San Jose City Council passed the law, I applauded them for their progressive stance.  I always felt a little guilty when I forget my reusable bags.  Guilty enough to rhetorically slap my own wrist, but not enough to tell the Courtesy Clerk to just pack it back into the cart or to wait while I ran out to my car – my reusable bags were often in the trunk anyways.  But what I didn’t realize that the ban didn’t just include grocery stores.  It was all retailers with the only exemptions for restaurants, nonprofits, and plastic bags for items like meat and produce.  If you want a bag at Target, it will cost you 10 cents.  Same at Macy’s or any other retailer in Oakridge Mall.  Having to bring reusable bags to Best Buy?  How will I ever remember that?

Funny enough, Valley Fair Mall is split between two cities. Part of the shopping center is in San Jose, the other in Santa Clara.  You don’t need to bring your own shopping bag if you shop on the Santa Clara side. Better look at the Mall Map rather carefully before you shop.

While I haven’t done any major retail shopping since my efforts to assist the economy during the Christmas shopping season, I have been to the grocery store countless times.  Practically every time I’ve been there, the shopper in front of me at check out is utterly shocked that they have to pay for 10 cents for a paper bag.  Some have insisted they will shop at nearby cities like Morgan Hill or Campbell where plastic bags are still flowing freely with every trip to the store.  Some have refused to pay the fee, only to have their food thrown bag into the cart.  At least at Costco, where they have never bagged food, the items come in bulk.  At Safeway, it’s a big harder to swallow having to bring in your groceries one 1o-ounce ketchup bottle at a time.

The only thing that truly bothers me about the plastic bag ban is that all of the proceeds of the paper bag charge stay with the retailer.  The 10 cents is not revenue to the city but revenue to the store.  Furthermore, there is no provision to the merchants to have to give credits to those who bring in their own bags.  Many stores already do this – Whole Foods, Target, and Safeway.  Others like Trader Joe’s offer a raffle ticket to win a weekly $25 gift card to their store.  Honestly, I’d rather have three cents off per bag than a raffle ticket.  Not that I approve of creative ways to tax the people – and there are times that I feel the 10 cents is a tax – I wish the City Council had thought of a positive monetary benefit that could live alongside the environmental benefit of banning plastic bags.

Still in the weeks since the law went into effect, I’ve never forgotten my cloth bags.  My how quickly you can learn new tricks when you are a self-proclaimed Scrooge.

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