Plastic bag bans in U.S. cause jump in shoplifting rates

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Cities across the United States and other places around the world have implemented bans on plastic bans. This environmental initiative has led to unintended consequences, such as consumers getting sick because they continually use their tote bags and either forget or refrain from washing them.

However, another unintended consequence has begun to transpire: a spike in shoplifting rates.

It was reported last week that James Devine, a New Jersey Democratic operative, was arrested for stealing $22 worth of merchandise and placed them in a reusable bag in order to avoid detection – he attempted to nab lettuce, protein powder and shampoo from the ShopRite pharmacy.

Devine has blamed the cashier, though, and claims complete innocence. “I placed everything on the conveyor belt and the cashier failed to charge me for the stuff inside the bag even though she gave me a discount for the reusable bags. I was hot, tired and distracted with coupons, so I did not notice that the contents of the bag were not rung up on the register,” he said.

Nonetheless, this is an incident that lends to a statistic that has been agreed upon by local authorities, business owners and customers themselves: reusable bags are contributing to the boost in shoplifting figures. These statistics have been steadily increasing over the past couple of years when cities began to implement the measure.

When speaking on Washington, D.C.’s reusable bag tax, Craig Muckle, a spokesperson of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission of Washington D.C., said in an interview with Washington City Paper, “Since the fee was established last year, we have noticed customers using traditional bags, along with less traditional pieces such as backpacks, to not only transport items from the store, but to carry items throughout the store.”

Furthermore, a survey of Seattle business owners found that nearly one-quarter (21.1 percent) said that the plastic bag ban has led to an increase in shoplifting crimes. Austin, Texas, which also imposed a plastic bag ban earlier this year, has been experiencing shoplifting instances as well throughout the city, but officials say there isn’t substantial evidence to suggest it’s the fault of the bag ban.

The purpose of the measure is to make municipalities more environmentally friendly. However, environment experts say that these kinds of prohibitions do exactly the opposite and prompt people to less environmentally-friendly items.

“Moving consumers away from plastic bags only pushes people to less environmentally friendly options such as paper bags, which require more energy to produce and transport, and reusable bags, which are not recyclable,” said Mark Daniels, an environmental policy expert, in an interview with the New York Times in 2011.

Cities, such as Mexico City, Mumbai, Rangoon and Oyster Bay, have had bag bans in effect. Meanwhile, other cities have imposed plastic bag taxes – if you ask for a plastic bag then you are charged a certain amount.

In Toronto, there was a five-cent plastic bag tax that was enforced, but it was increased by an additional penny when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty instituted the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

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