Though There Is This One Thing ...

Big news, albeit not in print: Yesterday, StopWaste.org enacted a (partial) plastic bag ban in Alameda County. It's the Bay Area's first piece of plastic-bag reduction legislation applying to an entire county. I spoke to my sources within 30 minutes of the vote, and put the blog post up immediately thereafter.

One of our FaceBook followers reacted online: "We have more laws now than the Soviets did under Joseph Stalin." Not to put much credence in a knee-jerk comment, but I question the motives of anyone who criticizes this legislation. The intent is to protect our bay, waterways, and wildlife; reduce waste; reduce litter; and reduce petroleum use, all for the common good. In no way does the ordinance infringe upon individual freedoms (nowhere in our Bill of Rights is mentioned a right to free plastic bags), and in no way is it designed to benefit a ruling class or business interest. Thus I see it as a democratic law that protects individual rights in a way the free market couldn't.

I buy groceries at a bulk-foods store on the edge of West Oakland designed for low-income families. Every time I visit I witness rather gratuitous waste of plastic bags: bags for single items with handles, bags for tiny items that fit in a pocket or purse, bags for items that aren't being carried farther than the parking lot, double bags for almost all heavy items, etc. This is incredibly wasteful of energy and material resources, harmful to local plants and animals throughout the food system, and a source of constant litter on the surface streets of my urban neighborhood. I acknowledge that the 10 cent (or more) fee for paper bags will be a small burden to low-income families -- and that single-use paper bags are only slightly better for the environment (the differences being that they aren't manufactured with fossil fuels, can be both recycled and composted, and break down in the environment) -- but ultimately it should motivate them, and the rest of us, to bring reusable bags to the supermarket each and every time.

The plastics industry certainly has a complaint of its own against this and similar ordinances. The revenue losses are no joke; that's why it's sued, or threatened to sure, so many cities (like Oakland, years ago) planning bans supported by negative declarations. But the new ordinance is backed by a rock-solid EIR, my sources assured me, so it seems unlikely a suit will even be threatened.

Count StopWaste.org's vote a win for the environment and for Bay Area residents' mutual interest in a clean, healthy environment.

In case you're interested, here's some past reporting I've done on plastic-bag ban attempts in Alameda County and on the challenges of plastic recycling.

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