Thursday, September 15, 2011

Did You Pay Your Poor Tax Today? Plastic Bag Ban

Will That Be Paper or Poor Tax?

Ha, just kidding about that multiple choice question cause the paper one is the poor tax. As of July 1st, unincorporated parts of Los Angeles became plastic free. Meaning that stores were not allowed to use plastic bags anymore.

Then on August 1st Long Beach became plastic free. It seemed like there was some sort of movement against the classic T-shirt style plastic bag and it suddenly became the black sheep of all the carry out options.

I'm going to look well past the big brother issue because while I do not like "big government" telling me what I can and can't do or use in my form of capitalism, it doesn't change the fact that this is part of a bigger nanny state situation and presents a lot more issues.

First off on an environmental stand point it's the equivalent of acting like you care but in the process just doing nothing at all about it. The main problem with just having paper as an option for those who don't bring their bags is that paper isn't really any friendlier to the environment.
Issue 1: Energy and natural resources
According to a 2007 study by Boustead Consulting & Associates, It takes almost four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a polyethylene bag.

Not only do both paper and compostable resin bags use far more fossil fuel in production and manufacturing, but they also use twenty times as much fresh water vs plastic bags.

Additionally, most paper comes from tree pulp, so the impact of paper bag production on forests is enormous. A 2008 article from the National Cooperative Grocers Association states that each year the United States consumes 10 billion paper grocery bags, requiring 14 million trees. Paper bag production delivers a global warming double-whammy; forests (major absorbers of greenhouse gases) have to be cut down, and then the subsequent manufacturing of bags produces greenhouse gases. However, plastic bags are not the more sustainable solution as they use more fossil fuels and raw materials energy, and consume larger amounts of crude oil and natural gas than paper bags.

Issue 2: Pollution
The majority of kraft paper is made by heating wood chips under pressure at high temperatures in a chemical solution. As evidenced by the unmistakable stench commonly associated with paper mills, the use of these toxic chemicals contributes to both air pollution, such as acid rain, and water pollution. The same goes for compostable plastic bags.

Issue 3: Recycling
Studies indicate it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. But recycling rates of either type of disposable bag are extremely low. In fact, 85-90% of paper bags are not recycled according to the Wall Street Journal, and 94.8% of plastic bags are not recycled according to a study conducted by Boustead Associates. The bottom line is recycling disposable bags still takes energy and resources - resources that could be conserved if more people simply switched to reusables.

Issue 4: Degradability
Many people choose paper over plastic because they believe it will biodegrade faster than plastic will break down in a landfill. However, there are a number of factors that determine how quickly, if at all, paper degrades – this includes temperature, pH, the type of bacteria present and the form of paper (shredded paper degrades faster.) That being said, it makes more sense to opt for a reusable bag that will last for thousands of uses over a disposable that will end up in the landfill.
So the real answer to all of this is to probably go with reusable fabric bags. But even those have their faults. reusable fabric bags are a breeding ground for bacteria and germs if they're not washed or sanitized regularly. So you probably shouldn't feel comfortable getting your produce and other food bagged in the same area after the customer before you had done what they were going to do there and contaminated it with their potentially dirty bag.

Let alone what germs could be found in your bag if you don't Lysol the shit out of it regularly.

And for what its worth, the carbon imprint of paper bags on the environment is almost 10 fold compared to those pesky t-shirt bags everyone is all up in arms about. It's just a matter that people tend to fall into trends rather than simply being responsible. Logging, transportation and recycling of paper is very harmful. The weight difference alone accounts for a large disparity in fossil fuel usage during transportation. And if you don't believe me, perhaps you should look it up.

In a lot of instances, those horrible little plastic bags get used repeatedly before they are either being discarded, stored with items inside to prevent moisture damage or get used in small kitchen and bathroom garbage bins as trash bags. Try putting something semi-moist in a paper bag and see what happens. Shit, just carrying milk in a paper bag is often a receipt for dropped milk.

They tried doing this sort of program in Ireland and and the interesting results in that after they banned them, the sale of non-recyclable small-med plastic kitchen bags increased almost 75%. It just goes to show you that you can take out an option, but people will still find a means to replace it with a similar option even if it's not any better for the environment. So you're better off doing a controlled risk and just using the least offensive option.

Even here in the states there's people who realize this is the dumbest shit possible.
"Mark Gold, president of the Santa Monica environmental group Heal the Bay, said previous county efforts to promote recycling of plastic bags at grocery stores was a failure."
How is that for responsibility and choice? The sad truth in all this is that previous efforts have been made and no one cares unless it is enforced by law. I'm pretty sure that if you got rid of CRV, people would just throw the cans away and never recycle them. As it is, it's hard to even get people to recycle for the 5 cent deposit that is charged for every can of soda you buy.

But when you think about it, if you put a CRV on plastic bags, you would see a lot more of them recycled. Not to mention that you'll see a lot less of them on the floor and on the streets as it encourages the homeless and those who value their dollar pick them up if they can be redeemed for the cash redeemable value of a plastic bag.

The bottom line is that ALL plastic t-shirt bags available in California are made to be be recycled (it states so right on them) and every major grocery store has a kiosk to do so in. So don't blame the bag and the fact that it's inexpensive, but rather blame those who misuse or refuse to recycle them.

What this ends up turning out to be is just another poor tax. In my area, East Los Angeles, since it is an unincorporated part of Los Angeles, now has a plastic bag ban. You can see how it effects those who go to the local markets who can barely afford their groceries, let alone the 10 cent charge on a paper bag.

They can't afford reusable bag. At least I don't think they can use their food stamps on it... And it's very much true that those plastic t-shirt style bags may not be very easy to recycle, people have been doing so for as long as they have been around. By using them to line the trash cans of their homes or reusing them over and over again, that's the best you're going to get.

Paper bags have a far worse reusable ratio. And while it's easy to buy a reusable canvas bag, it's not the option for many people who are already on a tight budget.

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