A Ban On Plastic Bags May One Day Be Necessary

To The Reader’s Forum:

The P-J recently editorialized in support of “recycling” in response to how New York should deal with the growing, and already enormous problem of plastic bag pollution. Absent an outright ban on the production and use of plastic bags, which I would support and which is now in effect in California, perhaps we can try a policy that is initially voluntary based on the “Three Rs” — reduced consumption, reuse of material and recycling. If after a relatively brief trial period those voluntary options fail to make the expected dent in pollution, then a fourth option of a ban may be needed.

I admit to being part of the problem, but I try to be as conscious and practical as possible. Consumers can, and should, refuse plastic store bags for limited purchases (reduce consumption). How many times have we taken bags that have items easily hand-carried? If a bag is needed, carry reusable bags (reuse of material). They come in various sizes, are durable and are inexpensive. The suggestion in the editorial that reusable bags have negative impact in checkout lines is silly. I go grocery shopping often and have never encountered a problem. However, even with those options, there will probably still be a need to recycle, but it should be a last resort; presuming the materials used are recyclable.

Unfortunately, history shows the sole process of recycling is not a panacea — people have a poor to fair record of recycling larger items including refundable deposit cans and bottles, which is hard to understand. Plastic bags that can easily be put in the trash and become out of sight and mind are likely more difficult to recycle. Hence, recycling, while desirable, may be the hardest of the “Three R’s” to accomplish.

Thus, a ban on non-reusable plastic bags may be inevitable, no matter how inconvenient. I know that failure to provide reusable bags carries a per-bag cost to consumers, but California has exemptions for poor people. Further, if businesses don’t have to pay for bags, it’s hopeful that consumers could see an overall reduction in the cost of goods.

In the end, as environmental activist Al Gore has shown, we need to understand that America and the world are dealing with a very broad environmental “inconvenient truth” — how we deal with plastic bags may be our least concern.

Paul Demler