Bans on plastic grocery bags are gaining popularity across the U.S., and Republican representative Dan Shaul wants to make sure Missouri isn't next.
Shaul goes before committee Tuesday to defend his bill, HB 722 (embedded below), which would guarantee that shoppers have the option of choosing plastic bags, which have long been a target of environmentalists because they pollute rivers and forests.
"Basically it gets rid of any possibility of a fee or ban or tax on plastic bags," Shaul tells Daily RFT about his bill.
Columbia is considering a ban on disposable plastic bags in the hope that shoppers will switch to reusable bags. The proposal before the city council this month prohibits plastic bags except for produce and meat, and mandates that stores charge customers (except those receiving low-income food assistance) at least ten cents per bag if they don't bring their own.
"If it starts in Columbia, it's going to spread like wildfire, especially to the St. Louis area," says Shaul, who represents Jefferson County.
So Shaul, a sixteen-year member of the Missouri Grocers Association, is trying to stop bag bans outright. He says he doesn't want to burden shoppers with an additional fee at the grocery store.
"If they choose to tax the bag, it's going to hurt the people who need that the most: the consumer," especially the poor, Shaul says. "My goal when I go to the grocery store with a $100 bill is to get $100 worth of groceries."
But a ten-cents-per-bag fee for forgetting your reusable bag? "That adds up pretty quick."
Especially in a post-Ferguson St. Louis, where small county municipalities are being criticized for using court fees and fines to pad municipal budgets, Shaul doesn't want bag fees to become a new source of revenue.
"If a community needs taxes, let's deal with it directly; let's not put it on the backs of grocery shoppers," Shaul says. "I don't think eating, buying groceries, it's almost like it shouldn't be taxed. It's something we have to do to survive."
Shaul says plastic disposable bags are more environmentally friendly than reusable bags since they're made from natural gas byproducts. He says more than 75 percent of people reuse disposable plastic bags at least once for tasks like lining a trash bin or picking up dog poop.
"If it's an environmental issue, let's figure out how to recycle them after we reuse them" rather than ban them, Shaul says.
Here's the full text of the bill:@StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.