The Plastic Bag Debate in Texas Has Gone Off the Rails

PlasticBagMan.jpeg
@MarkW_KVUE
Austin's plastic bag ban has been in effect for three weeks now, and the city has so far managed to avoid economic Armageddon. Austinites, it seems, are still able to buy groceries, go shopping, and order restaurant takeout. They just have to carry their purchases in reusable bags.

It's an admittedly blunt instrument. A more market-based approach might be more palatable, say factoring in environmental costs into plastic bags' price or making customers pay for each one they use, but an outright ban seems to be the only realistic policy option for cities awash in polyethelene totes. Like Dallas, where such a measure is more or less inevitable.

Opponents have cobbled together a number of arguments against plastic bag bans: they increase greenhouse gas emissions; enable shoplifters; and generally tread on our God-given freedoms.

All of this culminated in state Representative Drew Springer filing the "Shopping Bag Freedom Act," which would ban bag bans. Springer defended it yesterday in a hearing of the House Urban Affairs Committee.

"The city, I believe, has overstepped their role and my bill brings in freedoms back to the individuals to make that choice with their merchant," he told the Texas Observer. "So it actually creates freedom, rather than imposing more [regulations] on people."

The ability to carry one's groceries in a flimsy sack seems a flimsy pretext for taking a principled stand against government intrusion, which is presumably why Springer quickly turned to the threat of increased E. coli infections and the associated cost to taxpayers.

"From a Medicaid standpoint ... the City of Austin's bag ban will cost the state of Texas $345,000," Springer said. "I'm going to look to make sure that if the bag ban doesn't pass, that we find a way to make sure the City of Austin pays the taxpayers around the state for that increase of Medicaid cost."

The E. coli claim was actually borne out by a study carried out in the wake of San Francisco's bag ban thanks to residents neglecting to wash out their reusable bags. But that seems like a problem that could just as easily solved through education as by reversing the ban.

But Springer and the plastic bag truthers aren't the only crazies in this debate. Yesterday's hearing brought environmentalists to the Capitol to protest. You can find out all you need to know about that from the picture above.

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33 comments
CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum

The only defense against a bad person with a plastic bag is a good person with a reusable bag.

FEDUP
FEDUP

Let's see; back in the 1960's enviromentalists replaced paper sacks for plastic because it hurt the enviroment (trees make paper), now enviromentalists want to get rid of plastic because it hurts the enviroment!!!!!!!!!!  Lets get rid of the MORONS who call themselves enviromentalists !

YOU FUCKIN idiots are what is bad about the enviroment!


MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

Those clamshells used by take out places need to go next.  I assume for much of populace the second they stop eating, their hands lose the ability to grip and the boxes fall where they stand.  A lot of our problems would disappear if the average man and woman were not slobs.  While I personally use reusable bags 95% of time, I do not appreciate Councilman Carraway's brush off comment on the cost.  He is clearly someone that has never managed an activity to meet a budget or worked outside government in a leadership role.  He is the classical government leader that I would not trust to pour water out of boot even if you told him the cobbler printed the instructions on the heel.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

"But that seems like a problem that could just as easily solved through education as by reversing the ban."  Right, because education has done so well in combating the litter problem that the bag ban is supposed to alleviate.  Telling people to clean their bags will be just as effective as the "Don't Mess with Texas" campaign.  You have to let them suffer the consequences for their actions, not absolve them of responsibility for them.  Catch someone littering, make the punishment a mandatory 64-hour community service stint spent solely on picking up trash, to be served on  consecutive weekends, 8hrs a day.  Get e. coli and it's traced back to your unwashed, reusable grocery sack.  Tough shit, pay the medical expenses yourself.

AndrewDobbs
AndrewDobbs

I hope you'll notice that that e. coli study was not only never peer-reviewed, it wasn't even published.  It was performed by a couple of right-wing activists, the first of whom (Jonathan Klick) has also published studies "proving" various whacky right-wing ideas (laws requiring insurance companies to cover drug rehab lead to higher alcohol consumption in a state, parental notification laws for abortions lead to lower STD rates among teens, etc.).  His work is funded in large part by the Koch Brothers.  This study makes similar mistakes to his others (namely the ecological fallacy--one particular change in a place which happens just before another particular change means that the former caused the latter), but it also makes the mistake of attributing a global, unexplained rise in a particular intestinal illness (Clostridium difficile) to San Francisco's local bag ordinance.  If you take those numbers out, there is NO meaningful increase in hospitalization or illness.  For more thorough and scientific debunking of their claims, check out Tomas Aragon: http://blogs.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SF-Health-Officer-MEMO-re-Reusable-Bag-Study_V8-FIN1.pdf

Furthermore, the initial claim that Klick and Wright start with--that bags contain harmful bacteria--has also been debunked.  The American Chemistry Council paid for a study a couple of years ago where researchers tested 84 reusable bags at a supermarket parking lot and asked questions about their use and care.  97% of these people say they never wash their bags, and most kept them in the trunks or their car.  The swabs found e. coli and salmonella on the bags, but NOT STRAINS WHICH ARE HARMFUL TO HUMAN HEALTH.  What this means is that the bag pollution lobby paid for a study that found that even when people don't wash their bags and they keep them in unsanitary places, they still have no harmful bacteria on them.  A more thorough look was done by Consumer Reports: http://news.consumerreports.org/safety/2010/07/can-reusable-grocery-bags-make-you-sick-or-is-that-just-baloney.html

 While these claims may be "borne out" by various studies, it is the same as saying that the geocentric model of the universe has been "borne out" by the work of the Flat Earth Society.  The tobacco companies used to put together studies saying that cigarettes weren't addictive and had no connection to cancer.  The auto companies paid for studies which said that seat belts would kill more people than they save.  Now the plastic lobby is paying for studies to say that canvass bags will kill us.  Let's keep our eye on the ball here, guys.

Note finally that I am the very sexy looking bearded guy in the sport coat in the picture above. 

cantkeepthetruthdown
cantkeepthetruthdown

I am fine with doing away with plastic bags. But getting rid of paper bags as well, which some cities have decided is a good idea, will only force me to buy plastic trash bags. That's called irony in case Anna Merlan is reading. 

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

"But that seems like a problem that could just as easily solved through education as by reversing the ban."

 If education worked, then we wouldn't have a plastic bag problem.  We've only been telling people "don't litter" for what, 40 years?

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

The E. coli argument is such nonsense.  The bacteria can infect other items in plastic bags as well as reusable  bags.  It's no big deal to throw cloth bags in the washer, by the way. 

John1073
John1073

What did we ever do without plastic bags? Oh yeah. We had paper bags and survived as children.

FEDUP
FEDUP

Never could understand why you 'shit fer brains' enviromentalists wanted to save trees and live in a home made of 'wood'.  Go live with homeless, that way you can feel their pain and sing 'Kumba-fuckin-ya together, and go around the rest of your days picking up the trash you so fuckin hate!


kduble
kduble

@MikeWestEast What cost? Austin's Solid Waste Services department spends $850,000 a year now on plastic bag disposal.

http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/plastic-bags-costly-to-austin-taxpayers-review-say/nRWgq/

Meanwhile, Rep Drew Springer claims the ban will increase Medicaid costs by $345,000. I don't believe that for a minute, by the way, but even if we assume he's right, the ban would reduce the size of government by over half-a-million per year. Springer ought to be happy!

kduble
kduble

@RTGolden1 Since the day you were born, how many people do you know of, personally, who have ever paid a fine for littering?

That's what I thought. Some deterrent!

kduble
kduble

@cantkeepthetruthdown  And then again, you could just bring along a knapsack and walk out with nothing in your hands....

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@kduble @RTGolden1 That was kind of my point genius.  There needs to be some bite to the littering laws. Either that or just give up on it.  If you don't hold people accountable for their actions, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that will make them change their behavior.

cantkeepthetruthdown
cantkeepthetruthdown

@kduble @cantkeepthetruthdown Unless we are planning on adopting the Mexican model of trash disposal(out the nearest window) I need something to throw trash in. Paper bags do a good job for this. As opposed to buying plastic trash bags. Maybe you should try reading before replying. 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@kduble @RTGolden1 You mean the best theoretical approach.  In reality, plastic bag bans will make things that much harder for those families that are already struggling.  The additional cost will get passed on to the customer, and poorer customers will have that much less money to put food on the table.  They will resort to buying rolls of cheap small trash can liners and using those as grocery bags.  A different type of plastic bag will end up lining the creeks and streets.

Oh yeah.  Don't forget that people have jobs making all these plastic bags.  We gonna drum up some extra jobs to employ these folks?  Environmentalists never look past their own goals, never concern themselves with the unintended consequences of getting what they want.

kduble
kduble

@RTGolden1 @kduble In a sense, it doesn't matter much what the penalties are. The possibility of getting caught is so remote that it negates that. The best approach is to limit the amount of plastic we're generating.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@cantkeepthetruthdown @monstruss @everlastingphelps Interesting.  I notice you left Starbucks out of your little equation.  It does seem to take a peculiar, white brand of stupid to bitch about $3/gallon gasoline while standing in line for a $6, 20oz cup of coffee.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @everlastingphelps I read it. That is why I am certain you don't know how it works.

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