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Plastic grocery bags

January 28, 2012

[24th J.P.'s Moment of Common Sense on Broad View, KBZZ 1270 AM Reno.]

Can we talk about plastic grocery bags? Without hyperventilating? Whatever it is that makes liberals latch onto weird, off-the-wall, save-the-world, environmental causes, the plastic grocery bag is the latest public enemy number one. And liberals are waxing self-righteous and getting riled up by false information, as usual.

After living through at least a dozen bogus environmental scares in my life, I’m up to here with this nonsense. The list of bogeymen which turned out to be harmless includes DNA-damaging DDT, ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, apple-poisoning Alar, Global-Warming-causing carbon dioxide, and the all time most ridiculous: GM’s people-killing Corvair.

I loved Corvairs. They were ahead of their time and perfectly safe, and when a Corvair got old and decrepit you could throw away the body and make a dune buggy, but Ralph Nader destroyed it with bad publicity. Bad publicity also ruined the DDT we used to kill mosquitoes, the chlorofluorocarbons that made air conditioners work so well, the Alar that made our apples stay fresh, and even the reputation of carbon dioxide. Now it’s happening to plastic grocery bags.

For me, this got personal one day in the checkout line at Scolari’s, when I hesitated for just a second over the question of whether I wanted paper or plastic.

“I hope you’re going to choose paper,” said a voice behind me.

I turned to look at the woman speaking, and said, in my ever-so-cool, ice-doesn’t-melt-in-my-mouth, how-is-this-any-of-your-business voice, “Why is that, pray tell?”

“Well, because plastic bags are destroying the environment.”

The self-righteousness and ethanol vapors from the last time she filled her gas tank were practically oozing from her pores. I’ve probably passed this woman on the right as she drives her Prius 50 miles-per-hour in the left lane, and she probably uses one square of toilet paper at a time and owns a cat.

Ann Coulter wrote a whole book about how liberals have replaced God with a religion of their own making, and novelist Michael Crichton makes almost the same point by calling environmentalism one of the most powerful religions in the Western word. There is no credible evidence that plastic grocery bags are worse for the environment than reusable cloth bags or paper bags. Cloth bags tend to be made in China, sometimes using lead-based coloring, collect germs at a dangerous rate, and need to be used for approximately 7 ½ years to get any kind of payback on the plastic saved. Paper bags require high-energy processing and the killing of trees, and use five times as much space in landfills.

When I got home from Scolari’s that day, carrying my groceries in the plastic bags I reuse as bathroom waste basket liners, I started researching the facts so I would be ready for Miss Prius the next time she gets behind me at the grocery store. Turns out that campaigns against plastic grocery bags are based on a slew of myths and purposely invented falsehoods... purposely invented by makers of reusable cloth bags who want more business.

Myth number one: they’re filling up our landfills. Truth is, plastic grocery bags take up less than 1% of landfill space, and “less than 1%” is merely a fancy way of saying they take up so little space it can’t be measured.

Myth number two: they take a thousand years to biodegrade. Truth is, anybody with a lick of sense would know that something invented only a few years ago hasn’t been tested for what happens over the course of a thousand years, and anyway this myth seems to contradict...

...myth number three, which claims they degrade into toxic petro-polymers which are killing fish, sea turtles, and whales. Truth is, that claim can be traced to CNN which had no scientific study to back it up, and it’s impossible to reconcile with the notion that it takes a thousand years for them to degrade.

Finally, myth number four: stopping the use of plastic grocery bags will reduce dependence on foreign oil. Truth is, plastic grocery bags are made from natural gas – not oil – produced right here in the United States.

Here’s the scoop: when you get past the misinformation and look at the facts, you might be doing yourself and the environment a favor by choosing plastic instead of paper at the grocery store.

That's... today’s dose of common sense..

"Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western world is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists." – Michael Crichton

"My hobby of not attending meetings about recycling saves more energy than your hobby of recycling." – John McCarthy

From Reno, Nevada, USA       

April 25, 2013 - The problem only I can see? Nevermind...we're not going to get anywhere talking to one another. - The Disfigured, New Jersey

April 23, 2013 - Liberals and Conservatives. Dems and GOP. Environmentalists. Activists. None of them, you included, see the problem here. Both sides on the plastic bag argument are SO caught up with trying to be right, they've forgotten what the issue is about. Hell, they aren't even trying to find a compromise, or a new and better solution. I read your column very late, but. This issue still exists. And a solution that we can all live with still remains elusive. The biggest opponents for progress are people that are trying to change the world. – The Disfigured, New Jersey
J.P. replies: So what's the problem nobody except you can see? Are you going to share?

November 26, 2012 - My name is Kayla and I came across after searching for people that have referenced or mentioned the importance of living green. I am part of a team of designers and researcher that put together an infographic showing why plastic bags are ruining the environment and the impact of plastic bag bans. I thought you might be interested, so I wanted to reach out. If this is the correct email and you're interested in using our content, I'd be happy to share it with you. :) Thank you. – Kayla Evans, Virginia
J.P. replies: Go ahead, knock me out. I could use a good laugh.

September 17, 2012 - Hi J.P., I know my colleague at Edelman, Lindsey Fritz, shared some information with you about our client Hilex Poly that you posted earlier this year, so I wanted to reach out and bring your attention to a new study from The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University that I thought you might appreciate. The study evaluates the economic impact of Washington, D.C.’s 5-cent grocery bag tax (an update to Beacon Hill’s 2011 analysis of the tax), and found that the tax has had significant negative consequences for Washington, D.C. businesses and consumers. Specifically, the study found that:
· Economic losses related to the tax are likely to drive sales tax revenues in the city down by $163,500 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011.
· A rebound in bag consumption among shoppers is likely once the “shock” of the tax wears off. An estimated rebound in bag use by FY 2016 will:
o Cost D.C. residents $5.73 million and lead to greater losses for the D.C. economy.
o Lead to employment losses of 136 net local jobs from 101 in FY 2011. Aggregate real disposable income will to fall further by $8.08 million from $5.8 million in FY 2011.
o Lead to investment declines of $1.58 million from $600,000 in FY 2011.
I hope you might consider sharing this research in your future coverage of the ‘bag tax’ issue. Please let me know if you would like any additional information. - Deb Edattel, Washington, D.C.

February 14, 2012 - I remember well that in the 1970s it was trendy to request plastic over paper (to save a tree). - Hank, Pennsylvania

January 30, 2012 - Thanks for writing and for including a segment about plastic bags in your radio show. I think you made some great points, particularly in the section that dispels a number of myths that are commonly circulated about plastic bags. If you want to cover this subject again in the future, feel free to reach out to me or check out our website for the latest information related to the plastic bag debate. The website also includes some great interactive content and videos, should you be interested. - Lindsey Fritz, Washington, D.C.

January 29, 2012 - I hope you know what you're talking about. As it happens, five minutes before your radio piece hit my car radio I chose paper over plastic and the damn handles broke halfway to my car! Never again. - Mary P., Reno

January 29, 2012 - The essence of the environmentalist religion is that it fills a hole in the soul for him who needs to devote himself to something larger than he, but can't accept the constraints of a conventional faith such as Christianity. Source separation is a lot easier and simpler than learning to pray, keeping faith with the Commandments, and really, truly, learning to abide by the Golden Rule. It's over with faster, too.
The human psyche demands meaning and value. But meaning requires an interpreter; evaluation requires a judge. Except for the narcissists among us, we can't be satisfied merely with meaning something to ourselves, or meeting our own schedule of values. We need intelligent approbation from an external source.
Historically, religion has filled that pair of needs. People who reject religion, of whom there are more than ever before in the history of Western Civilization, must fill their psychic needs some other way. The most common approach is the adoption of an absorbing, demanding Cause.
Environmentalism is today's Cause of Causes. Note its asceticism and eclecticism; it embraces virtually every approach to the renunciation of worldly advancement and pleasure. Of course! All those things require thought, effort, and the use of the resources the Earth provides us. That its high priests are uniformly hypocrites makes no difference to the True Believer; he exculpates them without thought. What matters is that by embracing environmentalism, he's made himself a part of something larger than he: something that approves of him, at least in his imagination.
Unfortunately, environmentalism is one of today's most lethal death cults. Its alliances with many other anti-human Causes make that plain. Whenever a death cult prevails, someone -- perhaps many someones -- must die. For me, that's the ultimate stroke against environmentalism and all its works. - Francis W. Porretto, Connecticut

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