Published on: February 26, 2009Now available on iTunes…
To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:
Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and sponsored this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.
There was a story this week in the New York Times about the fact that while there has been much talk about imposing fines and fees to get people to shift from disposable paper and plastic bags to non-disposable cloth bags, there hasn’t been much action.
The Times wrote, “Regarded by some as a symbol of consumer culture wastefulness, plastic bags have been blamed for street litter, ocean pollution and carbon emissions produced by manufacturing and shipping them.
“Momentum for imposing fees or bans has expanded from a few, often affluent, liberal cities on the West Coast — San Francisco was the first big city to ban plastic bags, in 2007 — to dozens of legislative proposals in states like Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia.
“Yet as support increased in places, the national economy began to decline. No state has imposed a fee or a ban. Some officials say they fear a public backlash if they were to raise fees in an economic downturn; others say governments need the revenue now more than ever. Still others say a cleaner environment, not revenue, is their only goal.”
Now, the more I think about this, the more irritated I get.
First of all, let me be clear about this. I continue to believe that taxes and fees ought to be a last resort for lawmakers confronting this issue…though it isn’t like a nickel per plastic bag is going to bankrupt a lot of people. But, it is a recession, so I can understand why there is some reluctance to levy such charges. However, I also can make the argument that if we ignore environmental issues even while grappling with a troubled economy, by the time we dig ourselves out of this hole and into a new prosperity, we may have some bigger headaches to deal with…and so maybe a nickel a bag, to be used to address specific environmental issues, isn’t so much to pay.
One of the things I continue to notice when I am in various food stores is the increasing number of customers who seem to have their own bags. I am one of these folks. I carry a stash of bags from various supermarkets in the trunks of both our cars, as well as a bunch of MorningNewsBeat canvas bags that I hand out to people who admire them. And if for some reason I forget them when walking into the store, I will leave my cart in the aisle and run outside to get the bags before checking out.
I do this because I have been persuaded that this is a small but effective thing that I can do to address the fact that we put too much crap in our landfills. I do this because I have been persuaded that we live on a fragile planet that we are perfectly capable of screwing up…and I say this even though I know I will get email from people who will say that the planet is not fragile and will outlive the human race, and that it is arrogant to suggest that we have the power to destroy the planet. If you feel that way, fine. There’s probably nothing anyone can do to persuade you otherwise.
But that said, I believe that what government and business really need to do is use their powers of persuasion to convince consumers that they have a moral responsibility to use non-disposable shopping bags, that there is an ethical imperative for them to change their own behavior. If they want to provide incentives, fine…but that ought not be the chief reason for people to make a change. They ought to change their behavior because it is the right thing to do.
I’m not saying that there isn’t a role for recycling. Of course there is. But in the long run, the best way to address this problem is to shift from disposable bags to non-disposables.
Maybe if this case cannot be made, it won’t matter how many taxes or fees are levied for the use of disposable shopping bags. People will keep treating the planet like their own personal landfill, and we’ll deserve the planet that we’ll have to live with.
Maybe government and industry need to treat customers like adults, and say, “This is up to all of us. It’s our planet. There are no other places to live, and no legitimate options to moral and ethical responsibility.”
Of course, if that doesn’t work…maybe we should tax and fine disposable bag users up the ying-yang.
What the hell.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
- KC's View: