anne mikolay 2012 120In lieu of the question “paper or plastic?”, New Jersey consumers might soon be asked “will you pay the five cent tax?”

Following the example recently set in New York, New Jersey lawmakers are considering imposing a five cent tax on flimsy, plastic grocery bags. You know the bags I mean, those plastic sacks that jars of pasta sauce break through, the disposable bags dog walkers carry to clean up after their pets, the same ones I line my bathroom trash can with or use to toss out soiled kitty litter. If legislators have their way, keeping a clean litter box will soon cost me.

After a two year debate, the New York City Council, with the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, recently voted 28 to 20 to impose a five cent tax on each paper or plastic carryout bag at the grocery store. New Jersey is considering a similar program; 4 cents of the 5 cent tax would be assigned to lead remediation in schools and communities while the retailer would receive the remaining penny to cover the program's administrative costs. Not all retailers would be affected, however. Only stores exceeding 2,000 square feet or chains with more than twenty locations would be required to institute the tax. Senior citizens and food stamp recipients would be exempt. The five cent bag tax has been well received by environmentally conscious New Yorkers; others have balked at paying for the “privilege” of using carryout bags that have heretofore been free.

New Jerseyans, I suspect, will react to a five cent tax on what amounts to garbage bags in pretty much the same was as New Yorkers. Supportive environmentalists will correctly point out that using less plastic will favorably impact our ecosystem. The facts can't be disputed: plastic grocery/garbage bags composed of polyethylene take ten to one hundred years to decompose. That's a lot of plastic piling up in landfills, on beaches, and wherever else litterbugs carelessly toss them. That being said, nobody wants to be forced to pay even more than they already do at the supermarket. Five cents may not sound like much, but a shopping cart full of bagged groceries in taxable carryout bags will add up quickly for the middle class.

My reaction? The five cent tax is much ado about nothing. If you don't want to pay the bag tax, don't use the bags. The solution is clear: trade in those flimsy carryout bags we often complain about for stronger, reusable canvas bags. Or send the senior citizen in the family to do the grocery shopping. Or pay for the plastic bags with those guilt-inducing nickels and dimes we constantly receive in charitable solicitation mailings. Or consult presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has a convenient solution for everything. No doubt, Trump loves plastic bags and thinks the bags love him back. Maybe he will get Mexico to pay our bag tax!

But I digress.

Paper? Plastic? Pay a five cent tax? I'm not losing sleep over it. There's a lot more to worry about these days than what I carry my groceries in.