Rich Lowe: Emotion sans fact
September 17, 2011
Before we rush to judgment on the merits of banning or charging a fee for use of plastic bags, how does this rise to the top of the Steamboat Springs City Council's priority list? Water, police, fire protection, safety, policy to spur economic development, and yes, even dog leash laws all seem to be enough to keep the council busy. But adult day care, really?
More important, let's examine some of the claims made by the proponents of this latest attempt to manage more of our life choices for us. First, the claim that plastic bags are expensive to manufacture is pure nonsense. Plastic grocery bags are prevalent in their use because they are cheap to manufacture and use. Try less than a penny each.
Second, the claim is made that they are bad for the environment. Did you know that most of the reusable bags being touted as the solution are manufactured in China and are made of plastic, other synthetic fiber and canvas? In the process of manufacturing these bags, they are colored and printed with various art and messages. Guess what? Many of these bags have been shown to contain lead and are being banned across America as we speak. We are now learning that when these bags are eventually discarded (yes, they eventually wear out) it is expected that the lead will seep into the ground water and pose a new risk to the environment. Another common affliction these reusable bags have is they "flake," meaning the lead literally flakes onto your newly purchased groceries. Most people would surely agree lead poisoning is a greater threat to us humans than the continued use of plastic bags. Where are the lead poisoning do-gooders?
Did you know plastic grocery bags can be collected and recycled? Let's try providing incentives to customers for returning bags for recycling rather than penalizing everyone with a form of use tax.
Third, reusable grocery bags have been shown to contain significant amounts of bacteria. A dangerous bacteria known as coliform grows and can cause other unintended consequences. The only solution to this issue is frequent washing of the bags. Well now, if we wash bags with flaking lead, where does the lead go? How about the fact that we are using detergents/soaps and water, all of which end up at the water treatment plant? It seems to me we are trading off a potential landfill problem for a water treatment plant problem, not to mention the lead and bacteria poisoning potential.
As with many things today, we seem to get caught up in the emotional hysteria to support what might appear to be a good thing. However, when we dig a bit deeper we often find there are two sides to the coin. If City Council is going to seriously consider this initiative, they should do so in a fully informed manner before making an emotional decision. Better yet, focus on higher value priorities.