Monday, August 24th, 2009
I just got back from Toronto, Canada, where I attended part of ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership's Annual Meeting. My main reason for being there was to receive our blog's Gold Circle Award. But in addition to walking across the stage to receive our award, there were many exciting and interesting things at the meeting — from standing in line for the St. Louis Build-a-Bear to learning more tips on how to make this blog even more interesting for readers. On the plastics front, one incident in particular stands out.
While in Canada, I had my first encounter with a plastic bag tax. Implemented in June, 2009 the Toronto Plastic Bag Tax requires that all retailers, no matter how big or small, charge customers a 5-cent tax if consumers do not bring their own re-usable containers (bags or bins). Stores get to keep the 5-cent tax. I got taxed when I ordered dinner-to-go from a Chinese restaurant in downtown Toronto.
I understand that there are concerns about litter. I am a proud recycler (for the most part) and I fully support recycling of all materials. But as a visiting tourist, something about my particular scenario in the Chinese restaurant seems a tad odd. As a visitor to Toronto, am I supposed to bring my own re-usable bag to the restaurant? Should the cashier have at least given me the option of hand-carrying my food before placing the container in the 5-cent bag? Should Tourism Toronto have somehow warned me upon entering the city that Toronto is a BYOB (bring your own bag) city? Or is it now up to travelers to investigate bag laws before embarking on a trip so they can diligently pack bags along with a toothbrush? OK, it's only 5 cents, but the tax does beg some questions.
I can't help but wonder if the bag tax is even an effective deterrent to litter. Five cents (or about 4 US cents) is hardly enough to effectively deter people from going ahead and getting the new bag. (Then again, the 20-cent tax that recently got rejected by Seattle was too much.) And who says that “purchased” bag doesn't still get irresponsibly thrown out rather than recycled? While many large chain stores state that they will use the collected tax money to fund recycling programs, why should the smaller retailers get to keep the 5-cent tax – rather than putting the funds toward recycling promotion? Currently, the large metal recycling containers that seem to be on every street corner of downtown Toronto have three compartments: one each for cans/bottles, papers and waste. Why not add an additional slot for plastic bags?
Ultimately, since I only used one plastic bag on this trip, the tax didn't have a huge impact on my wallet. But it did leave an impression on me. A city that seemed so clean and appeared to care about recycling decided to “punish” me for not bringing my own bag 350 miles from home.