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Plastic Policy

In my closing rant -er- discussion about plastic, I want to think about solutions to the problem

Sure, choosing re-usable shopping bags is laudable and we practice this ourselves (when we remember),  but I don’t think it’s going to completely solve the problem.  And single-use plastic bags, while significant, are only part of the problem.  I’m coming to the conclusion that government intervention (not something I condone lightly) is appropriate in this case. As long as the plastic bags (and fast food containers, and consumer goods packaging) are available, companies will use them and people won’t generally notice or care.

The movement toward recycling seemed to work some magic on the consumer. As long as we tossed the refuse in the correct colored bin — we weren’t just make the best of a bad situation, we actually believed we were doing something good!  Alas, it was only acting in a way that was less bad, and we should face it, that’s still bad.

The current crisis in recycling (check out this story in the Wall Street Journal article about the collapse of the recycling commodities market) has pulled back the curtain on this complex and difficult problem of plastics in the environment.  I fear that the recycling movement might not recover.

So.. back to the plastic bag issue.

Australia is tackling this problem head-on. We first noticed it during our visit to Tasmania, where we were charged ten cents for a bag at the IGA in Bicheno. I’ve since learned that all the Australian states, with the exception of New South Wales (where Sidney is located)  have elected to ban the use of free plastic bags by retailers.  The reason we haven’t noticed it in Melbourne is because the state of Victoria is phasing in the ban this year. In any event, the current situation creates a variety of regulatory environments across the states creating a ‘patchwork’ of reglutions, as illustrated by this map of Australia’s states.

Different states of the bag ban

In the US, many of the states have actually moved in the opposite direction!  In other words, they passed legislation to block municipalities from banning plastic bags!  Here’s a link to find out more:

When this the “ban ban” was passed in my home state of Idaho, one of the arguments they used is that they didn’t want to ‘create a patchwork of regulations’ that would ‘make it confusing for the consumer’.  What seemed conspicuously absent from the discussion was the normal chant that government closer to the people governs best. When standing up to perceived over-reach from the federal government, state legislators are first to invoke this notion of ‘local government’.  Apparently ‘local’ stops at the statehouse.  County, city and township governments must be brought into line lest they stray to far from the pack.

Finally, here’s a state-by-state breakdown of pro- and anti-ban regulations.

50 state map showing states with enacted plastic bag legislation


But I digress.

The bottom line is that plastics are an amazing class of materials that should be appreciated for the things they accomplish that can’t be duplicated by other means.

Packaging consumer goods, carrying them home from the store and holding drinking water just don’t seem to fall in that category.


Discarded plastic bottles and other garbage blocks the Vacha Dam, near the Bulgarian town of Krichim, on April 25, 2009. Sing

Plastic plastic everywhere…

From: Huffington Post (

May 18, 2018 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

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