This year, on May 4, in New Jersey, the paper and plastic bag bans began. From that day onward, no New Jersey grocery store that is larger than 2,500 feet could have plastic or paper bags at the check-out. While the law included exceptions like plastic in the produce and meat aisles, as a New Jersey resident, I can say the ban was big.
It also has produced some surprises.
Plastic Bag Ban Surprises
Like many NJ shoppers, I forget to bring my own bag to the market. So each time, I have had to buy a new one. My accumulation of bags has been considerable. Somewhat similarly, Instacart reports that it packs orders in reusable bags. As a result, their regular customers, each week, get more and more reusable bags. Then to compound all of this, Yahoo reports that shopping baskets have been disappearing. One grocery store owner said that he might have to eliminate hand baskets because he cannot afford to keep replacing them.
New Jersey lawmakers had hoped to boost sustainability. Instead, the proliferation of reusable bags could counter the state’s green offensive. As one observer comments, the reusable bags are only environmentally friendly if they are reused. In addition, I can only imagine what it will mean for my state’s integrity to have average shoppers become grocery market basket thieves.
Our Bottom Line: Unintended Consequences
We can expect that most government regulations will create externalities. Defined as the impact of a decision on an unrelated third party, an externality can be positive or negative. Vaccines are the best example of decisions that create positive externalities because fewer people, even those that are not vaccinated, become ill. Meanwhile the ripple of illness from pollution multiplies our negative externalities.
For New Jersey’s bag ban, we can say that the negative externalities were unintended consequences.