Plastic Bags and Local Control

When I become morose about the sad level of policy in Indiana, a news item will often remind me that We Are Not Alone.

We have an excellent recent example from Arizona. Arizona is one of those states that can be depended upon to resist federal mandates and trumpet the virtues of local control. State level local control, that is. (Much like with Indiana, what state-level lawmakers really want is the ability to thumb their noses at both the federal government and local political subdivisions. If the statehouse exercises authority, it’s good; if a city or county wants freedom to manage its own affairs, that’s terrible.)

Case in point: Arizona just passed a bill banning efforts by local government units to discourage the use of plastic bags. As the New York Times reported,

State Senator Nancy Barto, the bill’s sponsor and a Republican, said that “excessive regulation on containers creates more work and cost for retailers and other businesses — and leads to higher consumer cost and a drag on economic growth.” She added: “Municipalities acting on their own to implement these mandates run counter to the state’s goal to overcome Arizona’s sluggish job growth and economic stability.”

The only city to carry out any such rule is Bisbee, southeast of Tucson, which banned single-use plastic bags and requires a 5-cent charge per paper bag.

Lauren Kuby, a city councilwoman in Tempe, cited estimates that 50 million single-use plastic bags are used each year in the city and that less than 5 percent are recycled. She said the city faced costs from litter, as well as from the damage the plastic bags caused to machinery at recycling facilities.

Allowing cities and towns to decide for themselves which policy is most cost-effective and/or environmentally sound is evidently unthinkable in Arizona’s statehouse.

Sounds a lot like Indiana, where lawmakers deeply resent regulation by the federal government, but made Indianapolis beg for three plus years for permission to hold a referendum on whether to tax ourselves to support decent public transportation.


  1. This looks like another illustration of the discord caused when personal beliefs are at odds with sound public policy. Public policy always seems to lose to ideology.

  2. “Arizona just passed a bill banning efforts by local government units to discourage the use of plastic bags.”

    Hooray! I’ve been to places that ban plastic bags, and shopping is a nightmare.

    The shop clerks get all smug and happy about how they don’t have to do a thing for you, except ring up your order and leave a pile of unbagged items at the end of the register. When you ask when they’re going to do the rest of their job, they triumphantly say that they’ll have to charge you a quarter, or something, for every bag they have to use.

    You buy your groceries, and you have to put every item, unbagged, in your cart, where you then take the cart to your car and put a loose mess of items in your trunk.

    I usually just insult the smug clerk right back and ask loudly “How can you live like this?”

    Bag bans turn everywhere into Aldi.

  3. People seem to forget, plastic grocery bags when they came out were seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to paper bags. Personally I hate them.

  4. Oh Come ON folks!!! What is wrong with getting reusable grocery bags? Costco doesn’t bag your stuff, why should grocery stores? I’ve been using reusable bags for at least 8 yrs now. I keep one in my purse and never have to purchase a bag. I can’t believe your freedoms are being removed by trying to control our waste into the landscape and landfills. There is nothing wrong with reusing a sturdy bag over and over again. In fact, at Trader Joe’s they complimented my bags and said that they thought they were cute AND environmentally friendly. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I don’t even have children or grandchildren to teach, but surely I would try to if I did.

  5. AgingLittle. You probably don’t have a cell phone in your hand, looking at every other minute as you wander TJ’s.

  6. I’m sure all thinking people agree that plastic bags damage the environment along with the fact that oil us used in the manufacture of all plastics. I bought Kroger cloth (I thought) bags; had a problem with cashiers putting groceries into plastic bags then into my “cloth” bags. When I explained the environment and oil “stuff”; cashier and customers looked at me as if I am crazy. The “cloth” bags fell apart shortly; appeared to be some foreign paper product. I don’t mind bagging my own groceries at Save-A-Lot but it isn’t convenient at Kroger and holds up the line. That 5 cent charge per bag will not aid the environment, it will help fill the coffers of store owners everywhere if they begin using that tactic. I have to admit to laziness in my dotage but would buy and use cloth bags and change my ways if bagging my purchases was actually conenient in all stores. I don’t mind moving forward with the times but those in line behind customers will need to adapt to slower checkouts till changes can be made.

  7. “Oh Come ON folks!!! What is wrong with getting reusable grocery bags?”

    Do whatever you want. I want to be served, and I want to be served well. Service in America is already rapidly declining (looking at you, Indiana), and I’m going to do my part to keep up standards.

    I really have to shake my head in amazement whenever I see someone come into a store with their own bags. Why not tow a trailer to the store with your own shopping cart?

    I would bag my own stuff for a 80% reduction in my bill.

    I love the division of labor a healthy economy provides. The more I’m forced to do for myself, the more the economy contracts.

    My job is to shop. The job of others is to make bags, deliver bags, use bags, load bags correctly, gently place bags in my cart, and, at good stores, cheerfully push the cart to my car, without demanding or accepting a tip.

  8. “Costco doesn’t bag your stuff, why should grocery stores?”

    Costco is arguably the worst shopping experience on Earth. Inside, it looks like a military supply depot. You pay a “membership” fee to shop in these austere digs; the cashiers provide no service, and they try to check your receipt on the way out the door. Costco is a trashy experience.

    80% of Costco’s gross profit come from “membership” fees.

    I chide all Costco shoppers to demand better in their lives. How can you let yourselves be treated like that?

  9. Sheila demonstrates here daily the power of rational informed law. The deep thinking that knits society into a community that surrounds and supports we individuals and allows us to both contribute and flourish.

    Like science, law as a calling is a tough row to hoe. It requires the sharpest of minds, decades of learning, and the careful building of experience in order to piece together the essence of its structure and the beauty of its truth.

    Despite the deep knowledge and respect that is demonstrated by our legal experts who have invested lifetimes perfecting their profession we are in danger of losing their magnificent gift to society.

    How can this be? The perfect storm of conditions.

    A very few families with fortunes beyond imagining a few of which who believe that their being in the right time and place was not good fortune but a sign of extraordinary insight that entitles them to unlimited power. The recreation of royalty, this time economic instead of familial.

    The body of knowledge called brand marketing empowered and leveraged by the extraordinary technology of mass media. Basically a means to create culture, the blind following of implanted ideas that serves primitive societies well but is the source of much friction in a crowded world.

    The combination of the few with great fortunes able to buy the implanting of ideas favorable to their agendas throughout the masses has usurped the very concept of liberal democracy.

    The Internet as a media offering the whole of mankind’s knowledge up to the casual user who is absolutely unprepared to separate truth from fiction. He is told what to believe on TV, looks it up through Google and gets rewarded by a pat on his ego for being right all without effort on his part.

    Finally politicians as product. Celebrities sold by brand marketing funded by the nearly accidental winners of life’s lottery who feel that their good fortunes entitles them to great influence used to build further on their fortunes which entitles them to more power.

    This perfect storm now threatens both the legal structure of society and the only place available for our life to exist.

    Make no mistake the perfect storm could end the story of civilization. Will it?

    It seems that avoiding that ignoble end will require another great awakening at a time when society has become notably feeble minded.

    In the past similar situations have resolved by the downfall of a great civilization leading to the birth of the next one.

    We are all hoping for a less traumatic resolution but then so were those past collapsed civilizations.

  10. Gopper, as a matter of fact, I do tote a wheeled cart to the grocery store as do many here in Europe that don’t have vehicles. Our vehicle hasn’t arrived yet so walking is the only way to the grocery store or taking a bus or train. How else am I going to get those heavy groceries home? I wheel my cart and stand it next to the other shopping carts that wait there while the owners shop. I can get about 4 days worth of fresh food and a six pack of beer in the cart and wheel that puppy home. It’s only about 1/2 a mile so not a bad distance. Exercise is something that the western diet needs anyway and showing up with my own bags, just like the rest of the population in Europe has serves us well. I don’t believe anybody HAS to serve me because I have compassion and sincerity towards fellow humans. Might want to consider that someday. You sound like a grouchy old man, “get off my lawn, LOL.

  11. Gopper “80% of Costco’s gross profit come from “membership” fees.”

    You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Costco has a business model that is WINNING because they keep their margins lower and I have always benefited from their membership. In fact, we bought our Prius with their vehicle purchase program. We use the American Express card and get points everywhere we use it and have been refunded CASH every year WAY over and above the cost of membership. And the card has no annual fee.

    I also have the added knowledge that they pay their employees well with benefits and many stay years and years. Several of the cashiers I spoke to in Indy and AZ worked there over 25 yrs. Apparently, they wouldn’t work anywhere else. That is a business model that works for locals if you ask me.

  12. Being an Engineer, I have a more practical approach …
    I have two flat boxes and a cooler in my trunk. (Flat
    boxes, 18″ x 12″ x 6″high.)

    I simply roll the cart out and load the stuff into my
    boxes, that what needs to say cool, into the cooler.
    Thus, when I get home, I have two flat boxes and a
    cooler to get into the kitchen. Put it all away directly
    from my boxes and return the boxes to the car trunk

    Simple …

  13. “The 80% thing is also a fact from the financial news.”

    I’ll accept your unsupported opinion on that but believe that it’s irrelevant. The important point is do the majority of Costco customers get more value compared to other alternatives considering all of the costs and benefits?

    I have only anecdotal evidence but it says yes, they do.

  14. Pete, you’re missing the point.

    Costco is a miserable shopping experience that is dumbing down proper American standards of service.

    Seriously, what sort of loser shows a receipt before leaving a store?

  15. After reading how exercised we become discussing the relatively simple issues of paper vs plastic, I am more understanding of why congress and the state legislature are so unable to accomplish anything. I have an opinion about paper v plastic v cloth but I’ll save myself a lot of irritation and keep it to myself.

  16. The legislature is considering HB 1638 to expedite the timeline for the state to takeover local schools from local school boards and taxpayers. The takeovers would be based not just a grade of F but would add ‘D’ schools to the takeover list even though state takeovers have not made failing schools successful.

    We don’t know the basis for the state issuing such grades since the new formula for A-F grades for schools has not yet been determined by the State Board of Education.

    If you value local control, you may want to contact your state legislators about this legislation.

  17. Gopper, we are faced with a choice between two alternatives. Society that is either temporary or sustainable. We dealt ourselves that hand by our collective decision to create 7B+ of us some living high on the hog.

    One way to look at that is that each life is temporary so our choice doesn’t matter.

    Another way is that we are each a tiny piece of an ongoing story that does matter.

    Some believe that living high on the hog is necessary for happiness. Others have observed happiness under much more frugal conservative lifestyles.

    I support the ongoing story and believe that once we start thinking for ourselves we’ll find even more happiness in less.

    Everything else is about the transition.

  18. I am going to inject a different perspective into the discussion. Most municipalities have to expend money to clean up waterways, storm sewers, sanitary sewers and municipal water treatment plants. I have been working on my own local waterway clean up for several years. I pick up cans. plastic and glass bottles, wrappers from cigarette, candy and snack food packages, but most of all, plastic bags. Last year, the total of my efforts was twenty-five 55 gal. trash bags of refuse from the creek behind my house. The vast majority of the stuff was plastic bags. There is a neighborhood strip mall just upstream from our subdivision. Most of the bags come from stores in that mall. When the mall manager was asked to discuss the issue and help us find a reasonable remedy, our request was met with profound silence.

    If I did not work every spring and fall to clear the trash, the city would have to deal with cleaning this accumulated junk from the entire water system. Since our city has chosen to privatize the water company, guess who is paying the bill to clean their system and our water? All of us, that’s who.

    For years and years, we used cloth and crates to transport our food home from the store. I have cloth bags that are carried in my car. Those bags were purchased more than 5 years ago and are used several times a week. The cost in time and energy has been recovered many times over.

    We shop at Costco and Trader Joe’s and have for many years. One of the main reasons is their excellent customer service. Their employees are well compensated, have excellent benefits and reasonable working hours. If you want to have someone to help you with large items, they are very happy to oblige. We are not shopping at Nordstrom’s. No one is on commission. They deliver their product with efficiency and courtesy.

    If you want concierge service and plastic bags at no charge, then you should be supporting a higher minimum wage. and higher taxes to keep the water and land around us unpolluted. The expectation is that you will get something for nothing and not have to pay for being a conspicuous consumer. Let others pick up the bill for your privilege. I won’t so that without protest.

  19. Aging,

    Costco does pay better than Walmart, but only a $2 or so better. It’s been peddled that they pay on average $20.79 an hour to hourly employees. While I would caution about how the term “average” instead of a more appropriate measure in such cases – “median” – even “average” is way off. The website has thousands of employees self-reporting. If you look at the several hundred Costco employees who reported their income, the only ones making over $20 an hour are supervisors or those in a handful of skilled positions.

  20. JD,

    What I just wrote about Costco also applies to Trader Joe’s. The claim of highly paid unskilled employees at Trader Joe’s is also a myth. Yes, they pay better than a place like Wal-Mart for unskilled employees, but only a $2 more per hour. The notion that there are these companies out there that highly compensate unskilled workers, providing them also with great benefits, is always a gross exaggeration when you put them under the microscope.

  21. Does anyone have any insight as to why the anecdotal evidence suggests that Costco and Trader Joe employees are more customer oriented?

  22. Pete; never shopping at either of them (years ago I did have a Sam’s Club membership), I searched my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary for “anecdotal” – this was no help regarding customer service other than the fact that it refers to “anecdote” which is a short narrative of an interesting, amusing or biographical incident. I have researched Costco information in the past. The people who praise Costco and Trader Joe’s must relay a short narrative due to the brief contact they have with the few employees at their disposal. Apparently all they do is ring up purchases and accept cash or credit card…the customer is basically in a self-service situation from the time they enter the doors till they walk out. I find it interesting that their faithful customers bad-mouth Walmart and other “big box” stores when Costco and Trader Joe’s are warehouse situations selling in bulk lots. But that is their bag (pun intended). The fact that they pay a higher wage can be attributed to many factors; including fewer employees, no bags, no decor, few shelves, not carrying some brand name items, the fact that Costco (don’t know about Trader Joe’s) has it’s fingers in many pies other than department store items and groceries. You cannot go into Walmart and buy a Prius or any other vehicle, or insurance coverage for it, or make travel arrangements, or take advantage of their other offered businesses covered by a membership fee. Some of those extra services require a higher membership fee.

    But I digress into my usual Walmart cheerleader mode, I appreciate their clean, well maintained department store setting and the assistance I can always find when I need it. None of this has anything to do with this blog, “Plastic Bags and Local Control” except for the lack of plastic bags – or bags of any material – which customers must provide and fill themselves. I am not bad-mouthing Costco or Trader Joe’s; to each his own, unless and until the legislature finds a way to control where we shop.

  23. I was thinking that perhaps an explanation of more helpful employees at Costco (I have no experience at Trader Joe’s) is that they are there in the numbers that they are simply to help. The mundane security, taking of payment, logistics, cleaning and maintenence, etc have become as streamlined as possible and the employee role as salesman has been eliminated.

    I personally find that rethought business model to be refreshing. When I shop it’s not for recreation it’s for specifics. I can decide what I need and not and what it’s worth to me and I really only need some few times a question to be answered.

    Costco is also well known for their consumer reports role. They want to offer the one brand of each item that their research shows to be the highest value. A very valuable service to me.

    I believe that their’s is the retailing model for the future. They sort of replicate the online model but offer stuff that you can use your senses directly on before buying.

    In fact they remind me somewhat of the old world street markets.

  24. “Bisbee” is the setting of novels by J A Jance’s fictional first female sheriff of Arizona.” Flagstaff and Phoenix still are dipolar as any living human brains. But you can see alternate flag choices at the Prescott service stops. Plastic bags is an degradable local non-political problem.

  25. The employees with the best attitudes are the Chick-fil-A folks.

    Trader Joe’s people are usually decent, but I’ve seen smugness and arrogance from their crew. The employees seem to be happy, but that’s probably from water seeking its own level.

    You could set up an archery range inside a Costco and never hit an employee.

  26. @ The Estranged Gopper – when you state that you have seen smugness and arrogance from the crew at Trader Joe’s, I tend to wonder if they might be reacting to smugness and arrogance from you…….might this be the case?

  27. @The Estranged Gopper:

    Do you normally display Crass to this extent
    or are you just having a bad day?

  28. It’s called projection, Nancy.

    But back to Sheila’s point. The current Republican philosophy has long been “the government closest to the people is best — unless it is run by Democrats”

  29. Bagging groceries is a recent phenomenon. Corner stores rarely offered such. Women had totes or simply used their aprons. When paper bags did arrive, they were a sorry sort. In less than a block, your stuff would be all over the sidewalk. Most people had baskets and it worked very well. We are a spoiled bunch. We expect something for nothing. Plastic will be the bane of our children.

  30. Plastic is wonderful stuff that has revolutionized the world.

    Love plastic.

  31. Is it odd that a blog/discussion about a public policy issue can be derailed by a useless op-ed about shopping by the “estranged” gopper? Maybe she’s not so estranged.

  32. Loved waking up and reading this thread this morning. Thanks for the chuckle everybody.

  33. I’d be very happy never to touch your plastic bags Gopper, but unfortunately I spend hours every spring picking them out my fields so they don’t get wrapped around the farm machinery.

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