Grocery store cashier: Do you need a bag?
Customer: No thanks, it’s just a few items. I’ll put everything in this plastic produce bag with the bananas.
Cashier: Ok. We just got those bags the other day. They’re awesome.
Customer: Oh, why?
Cashier: They’re biodegradable.
They are also delicate to the point of being useless. Before the customer was even out of the store, the “awesome” bag was ripping and its few contents slipping out through its self-inflicted gash.
This is where California’s plastophobia has taken us. Grocers can no longer provide plastic bags for customers to haul out their purchases. And produce bags can no longer be tough enough to withstand even the slightest stress – they have to be biodegradable so that environmentally conscious California shoppers will flock to the stores providing them.
When a bag is necessary, the store has to, by law, charge a dime for each bag, either paper or reusable plastic, never single-use plastic. The other option, the one policymakers have been herding consumers toward, is for customers to bring their own reusable bags, which often harbor nasty bacteria, into the store.
Californians had a chance to dodge the Legislature’s original ban. The issue was taken directly to voters in 2016 as a referendum on Senate Bill 270, which had been passed and signed in 2014. But, this being California, where virtue-signaling is important, more than 53 percent voted “yes” on Proposition 67, ratifying SB270. The first state prohibition of single-use shopping bags was born.
Though it will try, the state will never fully rid itself of plastic grocery bags. Some Californians remain defiant. They refuse to wear an apron, and they load up on plastic bags when out of state, which for a few might be cause for mild anxiety. They contemplate the possibility of being stopped at the border on re-entering the state, their “contraband” seized. It won’t happen. Yet given California’s recent history of fixating on the trivial at the expense of the meaningful, who could ever rule it out?
California’s plastophobia – or its war on plastic – has grown to include a campaign to demonize and ultimately drive plastic straws, and plastic knives, forks, and spoons out of the state. The Legislature is considering Assembly Bill 1884, which would make it a crime to provide unrequested free plastic straws at sit-down restaurants. In the original text of the bill, waiters found guilty of giving customers straws they didn’t ask for could spend as many as six months in jail and fined up to $1,000. That language has since been removed. But its initial presence is significant.
As Sacramento chews on that, the city of Malibu is moving toward a total ban on plastic straws and cutlery. It will take effect on June 1, making it the third city in the state – Manhattan Beach and Santa Cruz already forbid convenient plastics – to enact such a prohibition.
Maybe the warriors believe they’re doing the right thing. But California’s plastophobia is based not on any real menace from plastics. It’s based on gross misrepresentations which too many are too eager to believe.
The plastic bag ban, for example, is rooted in stories that plastic bags are spoiling our scenery on land and threatening marine life at sea. But the facts say that plastic bags make up only 0.6 percent of all visible litter, and Greenpeace has acknowledged that it’s “very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. The evidence shows just the opposite.”
Meanwhile, the campaign to demonize and eradicate plastic straws is based on the “work” of a 9-year-old boy who called straw manufacturers in 2011 and concluded that Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day. In the real world, the Reason Foundation says, the California Coastal Commission has acknowledged that in the last 30 years, only “835,425 straws and stirrers” have been found, “about 4.1 percent of debris collected.”
California, which seems permanently moored at the bottom of various state lists, has landed in the basement of another. It slouches in at 50th in U.S. News and World Report’s Best States 2018 rankings in quality of life. Plastophobia wasn’t one of the metrics used to produce the rankings, but for many it has certainly diminished the quality of life here.