Tuesday, October 23, 2018

City Council Considers Plastic Bag Tax

Posted By on Tue, Oct 23, 2018 at 2:22 PM

click to enlarge plastic-bags-2.jpg

A seven-cent plastic bag tax could soon be implemented in Memphis retail stores.

A Memphis City Council committee began the discussion Tuesday of a city ordinance that would put the tax in place, and will vote on the first of three readings Tuesday evening at its full meeting.

Chairman Berlin Boyd, who introduced the ordinance, said the purpose of tax is not purely to create revenue, but “is all about sustainability, “being good environmental stewards,” and protecting the city’s waterways. Single-use plastic bags are never truly biodegrade and often end up in the water supply, Boyd said.

“We need to make sure future generations have an earth that is sustainable because we were mindful stewards,” Boyd said. “No matter where we drive throughout the city, you see plastic bags flying in trees, under cars, waterways, and drains.”

Of the seven cents that stores would charge for non-recyclable plastic bags, two cents would go to the store, and the remaining five cents would go to the city. The amount of extra revenue to the city would “largely depend on consumer behavior” and whether or not shoppers are willing to pay the tax or opt to use an alternative bag option, Boyd said.

Other cities including Chicago, Washington D.C., and Seattle have implemented the tax, and have generated revenue ranging from $5 million in one year to $10 million over 10 years.

Although Boyd said the goal of the tax is not solely to produce revenue, with additional funds the city could offer environmental awareness campaigns, improve riverfront conservation, and help mitigate blight around waterways, which Boyd said are usually full of plastic bags and bottles. Currently, each year, the city has to spend between $3 and $4 million dollars removing plastic bags.

Customers over 65, as well as those who receive government benefits would be exempt from the tax. Initially, the tax would be applied only in larger retailers, and then later the ordinance would be amended to include smaller mom and pop stores, Boyd said.

Councilman Worth Morgan, unsure about the proposal, said he is “genuinely torn,” calling the tax a “complex issue.”

“Something is going to replace the plastic bags," Morgan said. “Whether it’s paper or it's cotton, we have to think about where that’s being sourced from, how it’s transported, and how its produced. But if it’s just about litter, I’m almost all on board.”

However, Morgan said anytime the city introduces a new fee or tax, he has a lot of hesitation. Morgan said the council needs to have a “thoughtful conversation,” as “there’s a pretty high burden of proof before we can put a new tax to the citizens.”

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