When it comes to public policy, I like to live in the world of facts, not emotion. I don't care if those facts disrupt my previously held beliefs. That includes political candidates, vaccines, ghosts, fortune tellers, Bigfoot... and the environment. So you'll excuse me if I'm not giving everyone at the office high fives this morning following New York State's new ban (sort of) on so-called "single-use" plastic bags.
Before I go further, let me say I care about the environment. I'm an aggressive recycler and I follow all the rules (unlike a lot of us). I'm unhappy when I'm given a plastic straw or utensils that I don't intend to use. I'm not a climate change denier. However, I never immediately assume that because something SOUNDS like it's good for the environment that it actually is. I simply ask, in all cases, "What do you want to do?" and "Will it actually work as intended?"
So now we get to the plastic bag ban in New York. Certainly Governor Cuomo and the Democrats are taking bows, portraying themselves as taking a big step toward saving the planet. I'm not so sure. Please consider the following:
Much like the previous debate over using cloth diapers versus disposable diapers, the net impact here may be counter-intuitive. We're going to be using a lot more paper bags. Producing paper bags requires a lot of water and a lot of trees. (By the way, not that long ago, didn't they say we had to convert to plastic to save the rain forest?) Producing and cleaning reusable bags also requires a lot of energy.
Plastic bags make up 0.5% of the U.S. municipal waste stream. Producing plastic bags uses less than 4% of the water needed to make paper bags and 70% less energy overall. It takes 7 fossil fuel-burning trucks to deliver the same number of paper bags as a single truck hauling plastic bags. Paper bags take up far more space in landfills and often don't decompose for years or even decades.
From a practical standpoint, people such as Kelly and I re-use the so-called single-use bags... for our dog's droppings, for carrying wet bathing suits and all sorts of other stuff and to line our waste baskets. I suspect most of us will now just buy a box of plastic bags for our waste baskets, something that will truly qualify as "single use".
A lot of us may FEEL good about this new ban. I'm more interested in what it actually will do. NPR agrees as well. Diane Donato (in for Kelly this week) and I talked about it this morning. - Chuck
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