Home > News: Editorial > Plastic bag ban melts under heat

Plastic bag ban melts under heat

By Christina Edwards

September 7, 2010

With landfills packed and overflowing with trash, plus an additional oil rig explosion last week that contributed to the environmental turmoil in the gulf, environmental issues have become priority legislation for many jurisdictions, despite economic hard times. In October 2009, North Carolina joined several other states in passing legislation to require the recycling of plastic bottles.

California has been at the forefront of the growing trend of legislation and governmental encouragement and incentives for recycling efforts. The California Bottle Bill, which makes use of the state’s existing private and public recycling resources, places a monetary value on recyclables, which has resulted in high rates of recycling. Local jurisdictions have varying levels of additional environmental laws: San Francisco has enacted a mandatory recycling and composting ordinance. And up until last week, California was very close to being the first state to pass a ban on single-use plastic bags. California Senate struck down the bill on Tuesday, Aug. 31.

The bill was passed by the California Assembly in June and drew praise from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The state has a history of enacting similar laws at a local level: San Francisco was the first city in the country to pass a ban on plastic bags in 2007. And the idea is starting to take off and gather support in other areas: North Carolina banned single-use plastic bags in the Outer Banks, and Washington, D.C. began requiring grocery stores to charge for plastic bag use. Similar legislation to the proposed bill in California is under review in United States unincorporated territory American Samoa. Other countries, including Ireland, South Africa and Bangladesh, have similar laws.

The problem with the proposed legislation, and similar legislation in higher level jurisdictions, may not really have anything to do with plastic bags. Reactions and commentary over California’s situation suggest the law has implications that go beyond the environment and reach into concern over what can and should be regulated by the government.

Fox News Channel contributor and conservative columnist Michelle Malkin wrote on her blog after the ban failed to pass Senate: “Finally, California shows some sense. Lawmakers trashed an onerous, ill-timed, empty-gesture plastic bag ban pushed by radical greens this week.”

Readers commenting on a Huffington Post article about the ban who disagreed with the legislation expressed concern over the proposition of environmental laws over other governmental concerns. One commenter dismissed the bill as “just another special interest mandate.”

Similarly, supporters of the ban have expressed concern for legislators being swayed by the monetary effects on plastic bag manufacturers.

Much of the contention over this issue isn’t about plastic bags. I’m sure not everyone— or really, most people— opposing the ban are completely dismissive of all environmental issues. And perhaps not everyone in support of the ban remembers to place every plastic soda bottle in the recycling bin.

The controversy surrounding this legislation highlights a major problem in U.S. politics right now: there is a heavy us-versus-them divide, a need to align ourselves and distinguish what we aren’t. Sometimes, this overshadows the actual issues.

And that’s just one more thing this country can’t afford.

Originally written for Elon University’s The Pendulum

Categories: News: Editorial
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