Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Tucson’s utopian quest for plastic bag blight solution pointless

There is no utopia.

Yet that doesn’t seem to be reason enough to prevent politicians from trying to legislate one.

Both conservatives and liberals have an ideal vision of the way the world aught to be, and when pesky humans refuse to behave the right way each side attempts to use the law to force or coerce them to act “properly.”

Conservatives want their school kids to worship God in the classroom, no one pay a tax and homosexuals to go back in the closet and stop bothering everyone. Liberals want everyone to ride the bus, to all be paid the same and for all the humans, plants, birdies, fishies and furry creatures to come together and sing kumbaya under a pretty blue sky.

Enter the Tucson City Council, led by Paul Cunningham and his jihad against the evil world destroyer that is the plastic bag.

Cunningham has been pushing the council to do something about plastic bags for nearly two years and after a year of study by a city special task force, the council last week decided to study it for another two years.

Except for this study, they’re requiring city retailers to collect data such as how many bags are used per customer and to “educate” their customers on the evils of plastic bags and how everyone is supposed to recycle their bags or use reusable bags instead.

All that gives the appearance that the city is doing something about plastic bag blight but is actually pointless.

Plastic bags are certainly a problem. It’s estimated Americans use about 100 billion flimsy plastic bags a year. How many are recycled is up for debate, possibly as low as 1 percent or as high as 12 percent, according to the EPA; regardless, it’s not many.

The rest end up in landfills. Except for the few that refuse to cooperate and float away on the wind, littering cities or maiking their way to the ocean, somehow, and ruining the lives of turtles and dolphins and albatross and what not. Which is bad.

Something must be done, Cunningham asserts, and so on the table for consideration is an outright plastic bag ban, which the retail industry doesn’t want but the tree-hugging utopian liberals do, or a tax on bags. The former is supposed to force consumers to stop using them, the latter to coerce them into doing so.

Except wherever either has been tried they’ve failed.

San Francisco, where all crackpot liberal ideas get tried out first, began phasing in a plastic bag ban in 2008. It hasn’t worked out as intended.

For one, there are still a lot of flimsy plastic bags littering the city because nearby cities don’t ban plastic bags and those wispy little suckers don’t seem to know when the wind is blowing them across city lines.

And there has been no measurable change in the amount of garbage going to the city’s landfill or recycling centers because consumers didn’t do what the liberals thought they would – resort to reusable bags. Instead, many consumers reverted back to the bags liberals hate almost as much as the plastic ones – paper (you know, the destroyer of forests).

Reusable plastic bags didn’t turn out to be the utopian panacea they were thought to be because it’s cheaper to make them out of plastic than cloth (how’s that for irony) and unless you wash them repeatedly they harbor illness-causing bacteria, such as salmonella and e.coli. And washing them repeatedly is no boon to the environment, since it consumes potable water and adds phosphates and other chemicals to the wastewater stream, which makes its way to the ocean, somehow, and causes a cascade of environmental problems that lead to the poisoning of all those birds, fish and mammals already choking on billions of plastic bags.

Which is, as they say in San Francisco, a bummer.

Here’s the problem – humans are like water, they choose the path of least resistance (and the cheapest). The retail industry in America represents more than a quarter of the total economy, or roughly $4 trillion. As part of that, Americans annually spend about $100 billion in grocery and convenience stores. In other words, every day millions of Americans buy stuff in stores and they need a convenient and cheap way to tote that stuff home, like, perhaps, a plastic bag.

To tell those millions of Americans to find some other liberal-approved cheap and easy way for toting their stuff home that doesn’t cause litter and is fish and sea-mammal friendly won’t work.

Moreover, whenever some utopian ideal of proper behavior gets legislated, it creates a whole slew of other unintended consequences  – such as cloth bags coated in e.coli –  so that the intended beneficial effect is mitigated or eradicated by new, harmful effects.

Which means the city’s plastic bags study is a fool’s errand and should be stopped before it proceeds much further.


Search site | Terms of service