Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Imminent (?) Brown Bag-Ban

California Governor Jerry Brown is poised to sign a piece of legislation banning single-use plastic bags (i.e. not "thick" plastic bags) in California, "reasoning" that "there are about fifty cities with their own plastic bag ban and that's causing a lot of confusion", in reference, it would seem, to chain stores having to send different bags to different locations. I don't know but I guess this ban is imminent. I have not paid attention to the issue until now so I cannot say. Hence the "(?)" in the title.

Unlike the Governor, I am not an expert on logistics and so cannot offer comment on the chain stores' shipment difficulties. However, it strikes me that locations differ in many other respects, too, besides whether their local politicos look favourably on thin plastic bags. For instance, chain stores presumably send more ice cream to any given retailer in San Diego than to one in Eureka, and fewer umbrellas to Los Angeles than to Crescent City (on the Pacific shore near the Oregon border). Maybe the consumers who preferred single-use plastic bags could accommodate confused retailers on these matters as well?

And why stop there? The beleaguered postmen all over the world must sort newspapers so that the right household gets the right subscription. Can't just all the newspapers merge and every household subscribe for the resultant paper? If these proposals seem silly, it is because they are. So is the proposal by the Sacramento legislators. Other things count beside avoiding "confusion". Maybe the cities which have banned single-use bag had some particularly good reason for doing so? I doubt this is true in every case, but it could be true for some of them. The one-size-fits-all agenda will certainly stop some people's confusion, but like all central directives it will be costly to those of a different size and strike a blow (albeit a small one) to the prospects of Tiebout competition.

Apart from the issue of confusion, there is also an environmental aspect. Of course, plastic degrades slowly and is thereby anathema to many environmentalists. I wonder, however, whether the extreme thinness of single-use bags, which I have frequently used, makes them more environmentally friendly than the thicker bags after all. For example, if the multi-use bag can be used, on average, a thousand times more than can the single-use bag but has a thousand-and-one times greater mass, it would seem plain that the multi-use bag is environmentally the worse option.

Perhaps the environmentalists and the politicos favouring the ban have already thought of all this and answered that multi-use bags are indeed better. If so, I have just missed the part when they said all this. But given the plethora of ill-considered policies in place throughout the world, ranging from minimum-wage legislation and CAFE standards to tariffs and drafts, my guess is that it is, for the moment, an open question whether single-use bags are actually any worse for the environment than are multi-use bags. And even if they are worse, if they are only a little bit worse it would likely still be a terrible idea to ban them since many people find it in their interest to use them and the environment is not all that counts.

PS. Notice in the title the importance of hyphens (-). Ban of the lunch bag would see the hyphen between "brown" and "bag" as in Brown's "Brown-Bag Ban". As far as I understand the English language, it is up to the writer whether he wants a hyphen between "Bag" and "Ban" as in the title of this post. I do it to connect the ban with bags rather than with bags which are brown.

PPS. This blog post seems to have momentarily disappeared for some reason. This is the second attempt at posting.

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