Opinion: San Luis Obispo County Supervisors Banning Plastic Bags is Stupid

Say goodbye to plastic bags like these- you can't get them here in SLO county anymore.

Fellow San Luis Obispo residents, if you have a grocery plastic bag at home, keep it and cherish it as much as possible. You won’t be getting any plastic bags from a grocery store in San Luis Obispo anymore.

On Jan. 12, the San Luis Obispo county board of supervisors passed an ordinance that banned grocery stores and stores like Wal-Mart and Target from distributing plastic bags to their customers.

The new regulation has citizens up in arms, and rightfully so.

“The e-mails we got were overwhelmingly against the plastic bag ordinance,” Atascadero City Council member Jerry Clay said. “Mayor said we never got so many e-mails against something.”

First, the ordinance is harmful to consumers. According to the San Luis Obispo City Tribune, the ordinance allows stores to charge 10 cents per paper bag.

Remember that every time you go to a grocery store you don’t have to pay for any of those plastic bags. Now if you’re in San Luis Obispo, you have to cringe every time the cashier reaches down to pick up another paper bag because now you lose even more of your hard earned money.

“Ten cents may not seem like that much,” Frannie Falcone said, a worker at Public Relations firm Meridian Pacific who volunteered to spread the word about the ordinance. “I know people who carry twenty bags of groceries.”

For those of you who don’t feel like doing the math in your head, that means $2.00 less in their pockets. After awhile, costs like that add up, especially in this terrible economy.

Sure, those costs can be saved if you bring your own bag to the grocery store. But isn’t that just inconvenient?

“Plastic bags help things flow,” Clay said.

Indeed, it is much easier just to have the cashier smoothly put your groceries in the bag than to have to decide to bring your own bags (which you might overestimate or underestimate how many you need) or have to pay ten cents for a paper bag.

But what’s especially ridiculous about the ordinance is the penalty for violating the law- six month jail time and a fee of $1000 a day!

“There’s more of a jail sentence for that than if you’re caught with pot,” John Peschong said, owner of the local Meridian Pacific. “To me, that’s heavy handed.”

Even Dennis Elliot, adviser of Cal Poly’s Green Campus program and supporter of the ordinance, thought the penalty was onerous.

“That’s not reasonable. The store should be fined, not the individual,” Elliot said.

And how is that going to be implemented exactly? Having plastic bag police go around making sure plastic bags aren’t being handed out- something our tax dollars will have to fund?

“If my 17-year old brother hands an old lady a plastic bag, then he goes to jail for six months,” Falcone said.

This especially would be tragic if her brother was unaware of the law and did it on accident. It’s this part of the ordinance that makes it feel a bit like a police state.

Of course those looney environmentalists will just brush of these arguments with fear-mongering like this: (via The Tribune)

Many marine mammals and seabirds die from plastic ingestion or entanglement from littered bags, and Wednesday some of the dozens of people who turned out to support the ordinance illustrated their assertions with slides showing suffering wildlife and polluted shorelines.

Elliot mentioned something similar in explaining his support of the ordinance.

I’m sorry, but these environmental claims are absolute bunk.

First, it’s interesting how people like Elliot claim to see plastic bags littered everyday as a result of negligence or from bags blowing off landfills, when those against the ordinance like Clay say they don’t see that happening. That argument is clearly a matter of selective perception.

Also, it seems that the argument is tailored towards the concern of littering. Shouldn’t the solution then involve some sort of litter control rather than banning plastic bags?

Elliot said he also supported the ban because he thinks we should all switch to reusable bags since plastic bags are a petroleum product while reusable bags are made from recycled plastic or cloth and can be used more.

Here’s Angela Logomasini of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment giving the real facts: (via CNS News)

Paper bags take up much more space in landfills, whereas plastic bags generate 80 percent less waste and can be reused. Plastic bags are also made from natural gas, while reusable bags are made from oil. The weight of 2,000 plastic bags is 30 lbs. The same amount of paper bags weigh 280 lbs.

The link also mentions this:

“Moving consumers away from plastic bags only pushes people to less environmentally friendly options such as paper bags, which require more energy to produce and transport, and re-usable bags, which are not recyclable,” said Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability & environmental policy at Hilex Poly, which manufactures plastic bags.

And don’t forget about the plastic bags that are banned that are used on mini garbage cans here in SLO.

“Every household has at least four mini garbage cans in SLO county,” Falcone said. “Those trash bags have plastic bags. The alternative is bigger, longer more expensive bags.”

Falcone also said the bags will put 8 times as much into a landfill.

So clearly, not only does it harm consumers economically, it even harms the environment, completely contrary to what the advocates of the ordinance claim!

Sure, there may be a concern with littering since plastic bags last longer. But the answer is not to implement a ban. The answer is what Clay suggests.

“I support reducing plastic and paper bags but I think we should do it on an educational program,” Clay said.

What did Elliot say about the possibility of it being a choice rather than a regulation?

“I prefer to see people change their behavior, but the Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) has a responsibility to make a decision,” Elliot said.

With all due respect Mr. Elliot, but that’s a typical utopian statement. We’re smart enough to elect our own politicians, but yet we’re too stupid to decide what kind of bag we want to use?

If you like paper bags or reusable bags better, that’s ok. Go ahead and use them. But don’t force us what bags we should or should not use.

This plastic bag ordinance is not to protect us or the environment. The ordinance is an example of government overreaching its boundaries to restrict our personal freedom, with the environment as it’s “justification” do so. This is what my hero “Mark Levin” calls enviro-statism.

Adam Hill and James Patterson on our the board of supervisors voted for this ordinance. I talked about Hill in my last post. Patterson, for this vote alone, deserves to lose to his opponent Debbie Arnold for voting for this ordinance.

Make your voices heard. Do not let our elected officials trample upon our rights like this.

Get used to paper bags like this- you'll have to use these instead of plastic bags.

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