Background from Daily Camera:
Shopping in Boulder could get greener if some local students have their way. Inspired in part by a ban that passed in San Francisco in 2007, New Vista High and University of Colorado students are drafting an ordinance that would prohibit businesses — such as grocery stores — from using petroleum-based plastic bags. What do you think of the students’ idea?
If plastic bags are banned, would stores provide paper bags instead? This wouldn’t be “green.” The Washington Post reports that compared to plastic bags, paper bags require “more than four times as much energy to manufacture,” generate “70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants,” and require 85 times more energy per pound to recycle. In landfills, “plastic bags … take up so much less volume than paper bags,” says archeologist and landfill excavator William Rathje.
Or how about reusable canvas bags? I use one from Vitamin Cottage, but should I? Canada’s National Post reported that “two independent laboratories found unacceptably high levels of bacterial, yeast, mold and coliform counts in the reusable bags.” A nice “environment” for groceries. In addition to food poisoning, “significant risks include skin infections such as bacterial boils.” Don’t forget, washing these bags consumes energy and resources.
And what about poor people? No more free trash bags. Their grocery bills will go up, as stores will raise prices to cover costs of buying pricey paper bags. Those who use fabric bags would also spend more on laundry to keep them sanitary.
Most fundamentally, banning plastic bags is an intolerant strain of authoritarian environmentalism. It violates the rights of consumers and business owners to live as they please.
The students should promote creative voluntary ways to reuse plastic bags. For example, as a college freshman in 2001, Tom Szaky founded TerraCycle, Inc. Its slogan: “Send us your trash! We’ll make it into cool products!”
This article was originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera, January 16,2010.