Nat Brown's piece at National Review just made my day. I hate the peer pressure of hauling around reusable bags for grocery shopping. I'm sorry, I just don't want to clean meat juice out of a
cloth bag that looks like a tacky Hawaiian shirt every time I come home with groceries.
Here at our good ol' Marine base Commissary, no one cares, but back in Ann Arbor I felt like an outcast at Trader Joe's, burbling out fake excuses to the cashier as she bagged by items with a smile that said, "don't worry, you'll understand once you stop hurting the world and all the animals."
Brown argues that the banning or taxing of plastic bags causes more problems than it solves. Starting in Ireland, the fad has caught on in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Oregon. The result of a plastic grocery bag ban? People just buy more of other plastic bags to fill the need:
Unfortunately, study after study has shown that most of the supposed “benefits” of these bans and taxes have a negligible effect on the environment at best, and can actually have unintended consequences that cause greater environmental harm.
Take Ireland, for example. When the New York Times reported the 94 percent decrease, it neglected to specify that it was referring only to plastic grocery-bag use. Sales of non-grocery plastic bags (garbage bags, etc.) rose an astonishing 400 percent, amounting to a net increase of 10 percent in total plastic-bag consumption
Similar results were found in San Francisco, where, as Gleason notes, “not only was there no change in [the amount of] total litter, but plastic bags comprised a greater share of the litter after the ban.”
Plastic bags are less than 3% of litter (less than 1% in SF). Thirteen percent of bags were recycled last year, and with encouragement, this number could rise. But bans have led to grocery stores shutting down their plastic bag recycling programs. The bans also effect American jobs:
Unlike Ireland, which had imported most of its bags from China, the U.S. has vibrant plastic manufacturing, recycling, and secondary industries, all of which would be hurt greatly were bans and taxes to increase. For example, Rozenski notes that most composite-lumber companies use recycled bag content when manufacturing their product. “You’re looking at 4,000, maybe 5,000 [recycling] jobs that are created, and it’s a growing industry. With composite lumbers, it puts the number getting near 10,000 direct and indirect jobs through plastic-bag recycling.”
To top it off, reusable bags are problematic, even unhealthy(!).
Most of those used in the U.S. were manufactured in China, and numerous studies have documented unsafe levels of lead in the bags, far in excess of the allowable limits, a problem that prompted a statement by Sen. Chuck Schumer on the issue. Additionally, studies have found high levels of e. coli bacteria present in many reusable bags unless they are washed after every use, sparking additional concerns over public health.
Could this mean that finally, we regular folks can bag our groceries in peace? Can keep a stash of plastic bags tucked under our sink without regret?