Banning the Bag

The ban on plastic grocery bags has been in effect since the first of the year in Los Angeles, one of 90 cities and counties in California to enact such a ban.  Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully three times to outlaw the bags statewide but now think they’ve reached a compromise that has a chance of passing.

Environmentalists are pleased. Dog owners, at least this one, not so.

Shortly after the new law took effect, I went to Petco to research what nearly everyone indelicately refers to as “poop bags.” The shelves were stripped almost bare but I was able to learn the bags come in rolls or packs, biodegradable or not, even scented if your sensitivities demand it. I returned home and began using up the free bags we’d collected from the supermarket and other stores. Eventually the day came when I had to return to Petco and become a buyer of bags.

Plastic bags are a necessity of life for the owner of any dog but especially a large healthy dog – unless you’re a pig of a person who refuses to pick up after your pet. And I understand the environmental concern for landfills overrun with bags that will remain non-decomposed until the end of time. But instead of a law banning plastic grocery bags, why not a law stipulating bags be biodegradable? According to today’s Los Angeles Times, the proposed legislation suggests a 10-cent charge for “bags made of recycled paper, reusable plastic and compostable materials…In addition, the state would allow businesses to tap $2 million in recycling funds to retool manufacturing plants and retrain workers who make plastic bags.” Why not “retool and retrain” to make the bags biodegradable?

I know biodegradable plastic bags work. When we moved across country several years ago and unpacked, the massive amount of paper and other packing materials overwhelmed the huge trash bins the city provides for weekly pickups. So we began filling large black plastic bags and storing them outside on the deck until there was room in the bins. After a while, the bags began to melt away in the sun. We’d unintentionally purchased biodegradable ones.

The stores I visit have signs at the entrance reading “Don’t forget your bags” which invariably causes me to reel around and return to the car where a supply of reusable bags now resides. But wouldn’t it be nice if once inside the store there was another sign that read “Because we no longer have the expense of supplying plastic bags, we are reducing our prices by X percent.” Or even “paying our employees more.” Whatever. But no. No bags and if you want a paper bag it’s now 10 cents.

There are other ways to deal with problems. In some parts of Africa, plastic bag litter on the terrain is sometimes called “African flowers.” In Burkina Faso we saw people on the streets selling water in small plastic bags knotted at the top. The buyer bites off one corner of the bag to drink the water and yes, probably frequently drops the empty bag to the ground. We met a Belgian man who had observed that situation and decided to start a business. His bags are filled with pure drinking water unlike those of the street sellers and are made of a heavier plastic. And yes, they’re more expensive. But, he told us, the people like them because they keep the empty bags and use them for other things. It’s been several years but I hope his business has continued to flourish.

In a bookstore recently the checkout clerk offered me a plastic bag. I accepted of course because plastic bags have become treasured. But I asked her why her store is exempt from the ban. “Because our bags can be used for other things,” she said. Huh?!  I thought, can’t they all?

3 comments on “Banning the Bag

  1. Roger Keyser says:

    I, too, am a daily contributor of plastic wrapped dog poop to our community landfill. It bothers my conscience a bit, wondering how many eons those packages will remain fossilized down there. Our state has not yet banned plastic grocery bags, but why not make them biodegradable? Could it cost that much more? The stores could even advertise the fact with slogans like “Because we care, our bags are biodegradable!”. If the number of biodegradable bags manufactured rises greatly, the costs should come down.

    As faithful recyclers, our garage has several containers — glass, cardboard, paper, aluminum cans, tin cans, plastic bags, other plastic. Since we dump our edible garbage (except meat or dairy) in a compost pile, the remaining trash, including poop bags, is always less than that we take to be recycled. Since legislated environmentalism continually fails, I am hoping that clever capitalism, like that Belgian man in Africa, will eventually find better solutions and markets for our waste.

    • patnieder says:

      Our New York daughter is always impressed with LA’s trash collection system. It’s simple and they take almost everything with three bins provided each home: blue for recyclable items, green for yard trimmings and kitchen waste and black for everything else. Here’s a link for a list of all they’ll accept: http://lacitysan.org/solid_resources/recycling/curbside/what_is_recyclable.htm

      • Roger Keyser says:

        That is a very impressive system. Having just three bins would be nice. I am surprised that they even accept styrofoam — the only plastic that we still put in the trash. Glad to see that enough value was found for all of those materials to avoid the landfills. It looks like a program that should be emulated everywhere.

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