Pa. lawmakers consider plastic bag tax

    A bill in committee at the Pennsylvania Legislature would place a 2-cent tax on plastic grocery bags handed out at stores.

    State Sen. Daylin Leach, who introduced the bill, said if it is passed, he hopes it is one tax that will never be collected. Rather, he wants to encourage people to use more environmentally friendly reusable bags, or even paper.

    “When someone goes to buy groceries, that’s what, a 15- to 30-minute errand?” Leach said. “To use something that’s going to be around for a thousand years to do a 15-minute errand seems foolish.”

    Leach points to the 5-cent tax in Washington, D.C., which cut plastic bag use in half last year, as proof that his proposal would work.

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    A tax and then a ban on plastic bags were shot down in the Philadelphia City Council two years ago. Councilman James Kenney said he thinks a statewide tax might be a little more likely to pass.

    “The argument was we were going to be treating our retail folks differently than the suburbs, so if it’s a statewide issue that argument goes out the window,” Kenney said.

    Some consumer and retail industry groups, including the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, said they would oppose the tax if it proceeds through the Legislature. A representative said the association would prefer to ramp up recycling efforts such as the Keep America Beautiful program instead of tacking on an extra tax for shoppers.

    The tax would apply only to stores with more than $1 million in annual sales, and the revenues would be split between state and in-store recycling efforts. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states currently considering a bag tax. Seattle voters rejected a 20-cent tax in 2009, but two counties in California recently passed bans on the bags.

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