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Californians strain at a gnat… December 14, 2016

Posted by federalist in Government Regulation.
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Two years ago the California government enacted a 4000-word law to essentially ban retail stores from providing single-use plastic bags, and requiring them to charge customers at least $.10/bag should they desire recycled paper bags to carry purchased goods.

Last month this law was sustained in a referendum (Proposition 67).

California is a peculiar state, but in reviewing the background of this law I found essentially three arguments:


  1. Plastic bags produce unsightly litter. (Never mind that littering is already a crime in California.)

  2. Plastic bags “harm or kill wildlife.” Lots of things, natural and artificial, harm and kill wildlife. I’ve never seen a wild animal killed by a plastic bag, and I don’t know how that would happen; nevertheless, I’ll concede it as a possibility. But anecdotal photos of animals with litter don’t make this argument. Where do wildlife management scientists rank plastic bags on the list of threats to animals? E.g., above or below lightning strikes?

  3. Plastic bags are produced from “petroleum” (actually, mostly natural gas) and hence are not “environmentally sustainable.” First of all, bag-grade plastics can be produced from all sorts of “renewable” plant-sourced polymers. Second of all, even if they are all produced from “fossil fuels,” they could still be the most efficient use of those resources. Presumably, people have to carry their groceries in something. What do they use, and what do those things cost to produce and maintain? (Or what are the sanitary costs if they aren’t maintained?)

California is straining at a gnat while swallowing camels on all these matters. If the concern is “wasting” petroleum and creating trash, why not step up enforcement of existing litter laws and build waste-to-energy plants? That would recover vastly larger quantities of litter and energy than this disproportionate focus on one consumer item.