Today’s Los Angeles Times editorial pages weigh in on the various proposals in Sacramento to ban plastic bags from stores by calling for a basic fee for their use. This would encourage consumers to be more thoughtful when it comes to using re-usable bags when food shopping and an assessed fee would likely increase the use of these items.
From the editorial:
Consumers already pay for carry-out bags; they just don’t realize it because the cost is rolled into the price of the goods they buy, creating the illusion that the bags are free. Where they’ve been made explicit, fees of just 5 cents have cut plastic bag use 75% to 90%.
Still, people occasionally need or want the convenience of a plastic bag and would pay a little extra for one, so why not? The goal should be to greatly reduce the number of bags floating around as trash — the flimsy bags with handles are the second most common trash item found along California’s beaches, and they contribute to the giant floating garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean — but not to make people live without them entirely. People who pay for the bags are more likely to reuse them. (For unknown reasons, the plastic bags that grocery shoppers use for their vegetables — and those used to wrap this newspaper — do not tend to end up as trash in or near waterways.)
Although a 2006 California law prohibits cities from adopting fees on plastic bags, it hasn’t stopped municipalities from taking action. More than 70 have banned the bags outright, including Los Angeles, whose ban will take effect later this year. The patchwork of laws around the state — some cities and counties ban both paper and plastic bags, some ban plastic but levy a fee on paper, some have no law at all — is confusing for retail chains and consumers, and the bans eliminate consumer choice.
Now OC Assemblyman Travis Allen has proposed a bill to effectively ban bans on plastic bags citing the large amount of water required to launder these reusable products and the negative impact of the environment on the sudden increased laundry demands on the Southern California water supply. Interesting comment since in 2006, the United Nations found that each square mile of the world’s oceans has about 46,000 pieces of plastic.
Allen cites studies about food borne bacteria from unwashed plastic reusable bags as a culprit. We had a nice debate with Republican operative Jim Bieber last year who sabotaged his own grocery bags, deliberately put good food in dirty bags and then made a case for food borne illness and health-risks associated with their use. And then again, I can place a dirty diaper on a new born baby and complain about the increased dangers of diaper rash.
While the plastic reuable bags aren’t bad, there are canvass ones that are easier to launder and less likely to break. I own several made by a small business in OC that are virtually knitted soft string; these are very elastic, weigh practically nothing and can carry up to 50 pounds of groceries. We launder them with the towels after use.
The Times editorial accounts for those who forget their bags at home by allowing for a fee to use bags the stores provide, for those moments when you need to get something from the store on the way home.
Making the laundry of reusable bags an environmental issue over the use of one-time plastic bags makes as much sense as tax cuts for the rich trickling down to help the poor for the economy.