(Update: The perils of not reading the whole article. I was hasty. See Elma’s post below.)
Representative Pricey Harrison (D) has introduced a bill that would force stores to recycle plastic bags. Now, here’s what the News & Record says about it (followed by my commentary) – though the N&R still doesn’t agree with Rep. Harrison’s legislation:
• "Plastic bags burden landfills: It’s estimated Americans discard 100 billion of these bags annually. Because they don’t easily biodegrade, they are likely to be plaguing us for centuries."
Actually, since plastics are petroleum products, and the price for petroleum is nearing record levels, it may eventually be cost-effective not only to pay people to bring their bags back, but to strip mine the landfills for plastics… But even if they aren’t mined, why would a landfill "plague" anyone for centuries? It’s not like people live in landfills. If they live near them, a plastic bag isn’t going to creep out and attack them. This makes no sense.
• Plastic bags waste finite resources: Less than .5 percent of a barrel of oil or unit of natural gas goes toward making plastic bags, but that still is significant.
I, of course, make this point above, but add some rational economic analysis. So why should we worry? Price signals change behavior; not regulations. That’s what you get when journalists weigh in on things they don’t understand, which happens all too often.
• Plastic bags harm wildlife. It’s thought that plastic bags contribute to the deaths of birds and sea mammals.
I’ll pass over the fact that wind turbines harm birds significantly more than plastic bags – the former which the News & Record vociferously advocates – but there is no reason to think that they’re less likely to harm a bird flying out of the back of someone’s pickup truck on the way to being recycled. At least with the landfill, we know where it’s going.
Here’s why the N&R doesn’t agree (again, my apologies for being hasty):
"Still, we don’t support Harrison’s legislation, which requires retailers of more than 10,000 square feet to provide a collection site for plastic bags and to arrange for the bags’ recycling.
People who want to recycle plastic bags already have ample opportunity to do so through the voluntary recycling programs run by major grocery store chains in our state. Also, if enacted, Harrison’s bill wouldn’t reduce plastic bag use by 75 percent, the legislation’s intended goal. Officials in San Francisco estimate a similar program in that city resulted in only about 1 percent of bags getting recycled. That city now has banned retailers from using plastic bags.
A less Draconian but effective measure is taxing bags. That’s what Ireland has done (and what Seattle is considering doing). After Ireland put a tax on plastic bags (the rate is now 22 euro cents per bag), consumers began carrying reusable ones — reducing the use of plastic bags there 95 percent. (And paper bags, which have their own baggage, weren’t allowed to be substituted: The government said it would tax them if retailers tried to switch.)"