Plastic Bags: Pettiness, Responsibility, Democracy

Earlier today The Facts, the major newspaper of southern Brazoria County posed this question:

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 4.03.29 PM

So far it has almost 200 comments.

The comment I left: A prohibition on plastic bags at grocery stories would be a positive step in the direction of protecting the environment and should gather waves of unanimous support. Plastic is among the worst things for our Home and even if they are “temporarily” recycled, they quickly end up in a landfill. Think about the future. Don’t fear change. Government regulations are essential to keep big business from destroying everything. History teaches powerful lessons.

Check all of them out for yourself here.

There is a good mix of opinions. Those against such an idea comment “Ban this, ban that. When is enough, enough?!,” “First healthcare, now plastic bags….what will be next,” “Really???!!!!,” and “How about freedom of choice. Grocery stores used to ask paper or plastic. At least we could make the decision instead of the government once again trying to take away choice,” for example.

Environmental concerns come up in a number of comments, both those for and against. An astonishing number of comments support the idea of banning plastic bags.

Those against have comments such as, “Instead of banning, why not incentivize and commoditize recycling?,” “This is stupid i use those bags for all kinds of other things. I have so many of those reusable bags i never remember to grab them they may be good for a few things but not a full run to the grocery store. I have a whole space where those reusable bags take up space,” and “I like the idea of encouraging people to recycle (rather than banning) by giving them credit for using reusable bags. I didn’t know target does that already! Yay target!”

This entire conversation is odd to me for a few reasons. Spending serious energy, money, and time debating about “government overreach” and “democracy” on something as simple as plastic bags is kind of pathetic. Don’t we have more important things to fix, such as guaranteeing marriage equality or bringing attention to the fact that 1 in 3 Black Men in the United States are not free on any given day? Everything, for better or worse, is politicized and regardless of how straightforward the issue is, political ideologies and allegiances blind people to common sense, such as simply equality and the future. 

At the same time, however, the environment is a serious issue. And this is a debate or conversation that we should be having. The kind of bags used at the store shouldn’t evoke such strong feelings. It. Is. Just. A. Bag. Given the nature of society as it has developed, any action by government is seen as “government overreach” because such action is necessary to try and keep big business from destroying everything and the never ceasing creative ways in which they try to lie, cheat, and steal. 

Another strand of thoughts that occurs to me is about the nature of recycling. Even those who use the plastic bags for additional purposes still ultimately send them to the landfill. Immediate, short-term recycling is by all means good, of course. But I am also very curious about recycling in its more full extents. What happens when we place trash (paper, plastics, Styrofoam, etc) in the recycling bin? What are the environmental costs of recycling? No one seems to talks about this. For example, I have heard that in the case of paper it is better to throw it away because by the time we consider the environmental effects of recycling paper (the gasoline and oil and coal used in transporting products and making new products and the eventual disposal of the new product) it is far, far better on the environment to throw it away since paper biodegrades in about one month.