Ban makes shopping annoying

AUGUST 9, 2010

While walking though the supermarket the other day, my wife and I began playing a game I call Unintended Consequences. We tried to guess how things will really work after some new law is put in place. Our governments continually pass legislation that promises to fix every problem in the world, yet problems rarely are fixed, and new problems and work-arounds crop up as quickly as the bills become law.

Remember how loosened lending rules would fulfill the dream of homeownership to people who previously couldn’t achieve it? Or how dramatic public employee pension increases wouldn’t cost governments budgets a dime? Or how the Great Society would end poverty in our lifetime? Or – well, you can recite your favorite example.

We played this game at the checkout line because of a new bill – which cleared the state Senate Appropriations committee last week – that would ban grocery stores from handing out those disposable plastic bags that we’ve come to depend upon for hauling home the beans and bacon.

“We are taught to REDUCE, reuse, recycle in that order because we can’t recycle our way to a better world,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica. “This bill gets to the root of our litter problem by reducing our use of disposable bags. A statewide ban on single-use bags will persuade shoppers to switch to reusable bags.”

Back to our game: Will the law do what Browner predicts? Will Californians “reduce, reuse, recycle” after the state bans the cheap plastic bags? What else did our “wise” legislators miss as they promoted this absurdity?

The first consequence is easy to forecast. Stores will sell us bags, preferably (for them) those costly reusable models. Or they will sell us – for at least five cents each – recycled paper bags. Your grocery bill will go up by five cents, times the number of bags you use. Not a huge amount, but it’s something. More significantly, the grocery-buying experience will become even more annoying, as people dig through their purses for old bags or look for old boxes (like in those mega-discount stores) as the line backs up.

I’m guessing manufacturers will begin selling large boxes of inexpensive bags at discount stores that many of us will buy, then tote around in our cars, so we have what to use when we need some cold cuts. In that case, the plastic-bag problem certainly won’t go away. I’ll need to buy these or find some new ways to pick up the doggie poop on my walks, given that the grocery bags ideally suit that task.

Other people will reuse bags (old ones or the new reusable type) and keep them in the trunk of their cars, where they will collect germs and perhaps even cause outbreaks of food poisoning. It goes without saying that meats and dairy products will leak into bags, which will then be stored in hot cars, which will then be reused again.

“Recent studies have found that reusable bags are often a Petri dish for bacteria and increase the risk of food-borne illnesses due to cross-contamination,” wrote Patrick Gleason of Americans for Tax Reform, in a recent FlashReport article. “The most recent study … found that reusable bags are often used for multiple purposes and ‘seldom, if ever, washed.’ Researchers discovered ‘Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half [of bags].'”

The environment may get worse. As Amy Kaleita of the Pacific Research Institute (the think tank where I work) discovered, “the paper bag produces more than four times the atmospheric pollutants and 15 times the waterborne pollutants” of a plastic bag. Furthermore, neither paper nor plastic will degrade in a landfill environment. Sure, if there are fewer plastic bags, fewer of them will end up as litter or pollution. But people, being people, will improperly discard whatever it is they have in their hands. After the law passes, I’m guessing the public will learn widely that the “plastic kills sea life” premise of the legislation is false, as even Greenpeace admits.

This is a silly bill, but environmentalists are always going to be promoting symbolic yet useless measures to “save” the planet – that’s completely foreseen. This particularly bill at least has some educational value. I routinely try to explain how crazy things are in the state Capitol. This bill illustrates that reality – one not often discerned by the public – without requiring much detailed analysis:

The prospective bag ban shows the kindergarten-level of political discourse in the Capitol (reduce, reuse, recycle!) and the willingness of legislators to waste time on nonserious endeavors rather than on narrowing the budget chasm. It shows that the state’s environmentalists are interested in symbolic measures that will not fix any real environmental problems, but will make them feel good about themselves. And it proves that the environmental movement isn’t so much about saving the planet as it is about annoying average citizens: i.e., it’s a quasireligious exercise reminiscent of folks who flagellate themselves during Lent. The bill also makes it clear how corporations will side with the bad guys in order to line their pockets, as the California Grocers Association has done by backing the Brownley bill to earn a few more nickels selling paper bags.

My favorite predicted unforeseen consequence comes from blogger Ethan Epstein, who reminds readers that, “[b]y opting for the canvas bag over the readily available plastic bag, the environmentalist is defining himself. … In a world where plastic bags are banned, carrying a re-usable canvas bag becomes an act devoid of meaning.” In other words, the enviros will feel worse about themselves, not better, if this one passes. At least there’s some potential silver lining, although how long will it be before they come up with a new Earth-saving measure?

–Steven Greenhut

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  1. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 9 August, 2010, 12:27

    Once again, a perfect example of why California Legislators need to be limited to 1 or 2 proposals per year. These people will always invent a crisis so it seems like they are doing something. They want everyone to think they are neccessary for 12 months of the year, when in reality, they probably only doing neccessary tasks for 1-2 months out of the year. All that free time is why we end up with ridiculous laws like this shopping bag law, the “no free parking” law, the “no gatorade at schools” law, etc. We need to put a muzzle on these beasts.

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  2. juanitocabrone
    juanitocabrone 9 August, 2010, 13:26

    I plan on hording plastic bags and using them as my “reusable bag” just out of spite.

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  3. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 10 August, 2010, 06:53

    If you really want to be spiteful, just stand at the checkstand and hand them out to people. That would really defeat the pupose of this crap.

    Reply this comment
  4. Shawn
    Shawn 10 August, 2010, 07:54

    Wonderful perception about the issue. I work for a bag company. We are already gearing up to install more bag factories if this bill goes through. Yes, More plastic bag production. We make barely 1-3 cents per hundred bags currently for 6 gram bags that total 75 bags per lb. When they are banned, we will make a lot more on Plastic Trash bags that weigh 18 grams to replace those “free” ones. More plastic tonnage into landfills. Ireland was the test bed on this issue. In the 12 month period after they banned grocery bags, bag sales increases eventually climbed to 200% mostly for Can Liners, trash bags. 3 years later sales are up 400%. It took awhile for customers to use up their stockpile under the kitchen counter. 80% of those free bags are REUSED for household trash. Reusable bags are made of plastic fiber textiles. What do you call a shop that pays workers 3 cents or 5 cents each to cut and sew a complex bag? Sweat Shop? Slave Labor? Peasant Workshop? Serfs in a cottage? How else do you get a bag for 99 cents that includes store profit, US shipping, Distributor profit, Transpacific shipping, Chinese shipping, Factory profit, textile Material costs, Overhead, and finally a few pennies for the “employee”. Could you feed your family on $3/day? Where would you live? They weigh 1/3 lb. At 75 cents per lb., the material costs are 25 cents. California seeks to feel good about enslaving another 50,000 Asians to make their grocery bags while putting Americans out of work.

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  5. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 10 August, 2010, 08:35

    Good Call Shawn, go Hefty! The current bags are recycled over and over again before they are eventually thrown away, which is much better than using some heavy duty plastic bag for a tiny bathroom trash can. I think the State of California needs to send all of it’s politicians to a training seminar that teaches them about “Unintended Consequences” since it is such a foreign concept to them.

    And your bags are way too expensive! Wal-Mart was selling those little douchy bags for $0.15, so who ever is paying $.99 for the chance prove how “Green” they are, while increasing their chances of giving their family a food-bourne illness, is paying way too much. Once again, a “wise” economic decision by team green!

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  6. Shawn
    Shawn 10 August, 2010, 14:21

    I probably should explain why Americans will be put out of work if Grocery Bags are banned. American bag factories are mostly set up with high speed Tee Shirt Bag converting lines. Those can not make Can Liners. To change over to Can Liner production to meet the huge increase in demand requires several million dollars investment per factory for interleave Can Liner converting machines. With current bank lending practices to companies making a net profit of 3 percent at best, there is no way they can get the investment capital. Can Liners will largely come from Asian production lines. It is estimated that a minimum of 8,000 American jobs will be lost when you include the support companies providing materials to the factories.

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  7. bobnormal
    bobnormal 10 August, 2010, 17:21

    Shawn, thanks for the details, and BTW if we buy reusable bags, won’t they get germy nasty? we could wash them, dumping chems into the water while using more water “Unintended Consequences indeed

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  8. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 11 August, 2010, 06:11

    Have you smelled the marine life in this country lately? It smells like fish, its awful! They could use a bath, so the additional detergant in our waterways will do more good than harm.

    Besides, you know most people arnt going to wash those stupid things, they will use them til they stink, then throw them away. Then our masters in Sacramento will “Solve” that problem by mandating that all of those bags be sold for $10-15 each so no one could afford to throw them away.

    Dont worry, our politicians know best and they will protect us from ourselves.

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  9. Jealot
    Jealot 17 August, 2010, 12:11

    The Oregon Legislature has done this as well and it is extremely annoying. What ever happened to the idea that people can self-govern themselves? I’ve been doing the whole “reduce, reuse, recycle” thing since long before “green” started to become a social identity, and was still just a color. Things like this used to be called “common sense”, now they are treated as some kind of revolutionary breakthrough.

    Shouldn’t people be able to decide for themselves if they want to use that plastic bag, or use an alternative bag? If people are going to litter, I’m pretty sure they don’t care a whole lot about what it is they are littering with, you’ll just see a different assortment of litter now. Millions of people have found additional uses for these bags over the many years they have been around; i.e. garbage bags, doggy poop bags, lunch bags for work/school, storage bags, etc. (I probably don’t need to list anything, because chances are that whatever your views are, you use them yourself for something around your home).

    With these plastic bags gone, the many scenarios where one might “reuse” them won’t simply go away. People will now need to purchase OTHER plastic bags (you know, the heavy-duty ones that use a much thicker plastic [that means more raw materials used] and cost consumers [that’s you and me], a.k.a. everyone, money) to meet the same needs that those super-thin wispy little bags have for so long.

    Now then, what about the “convenience factor”? I know that when I was a teen growing up, my friends and I would often times make a stop at a nearby grocery store for some snacks and drinks during a hot summer day before going to wherever our next destination would be…and somehow we knew how to properly dispose of those plastic bags without being force-fed a bunch of environmentalist propaganda, or having the government force us.

    Now imagine a similar group of kids in today’s society… do they walk around with a bunch of reusable bags stuff into their shorts? Or are they supposed to always buy a paper bag and bring that with them wherever they go? Have you ever tried to bunch up a paper bag (the full-size grocery bags) into a ball and stuff it into your pocket until you could find a trash can? Neither have I. However I have done that more times than I can remember with plastic bags because they take up virtually no space at all.

    I hadn’t even thought about the idea that the reusable bags could get contaminated, but that is an issue that many others have already shared with us. Then again, I find it hard to believe that many people don’t already know most if not all of what I’ve already said above…. and yet sadly, we still manage to let these politicians in office so they can ruin everything.

    Enough already!!!

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