OK, so the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may not be anywhere near as big as we thought, and some activists think plastic bags are a distraction from the major environmental issues we face. But that doesn’t stop many others from holding up the single-use plastic bag as a symbol of all that is wrong with our consumer culture. Now a viral rap video is making the rounds, calling on cities around the Globe to step up and ban the single-use plastic bag.
I’m always in two minds about plastic bag bans. On the one hand, I get it—plastic bags are wasteful, polluting and pointless. They do make us lazy. And they do cost all of us money in terms of taxes to deal with litter and pollution.
On the other hand, like any outright ban on pretty much anything, it’s an incredibly divisive topic. You only have to look at the legislative record of such bans to understand that they will please some, and anger others. The entire State of California is definitely not be ready to go plastic bag free, for example, even though LA county is passing the biggest plastic bag ban in the US.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of Toronto pledges to repeal a similar bag ban, while over in Europe Italy is outlawing single-use bags across the country.
On a case-by-case basis I have no problem with banning the single use plastic bag. But, given all the environmental challenges ahead of us—from peak oil to climate change to clean water issues—and given the uphill struggle we face getting any kind of action in Government, I do think it is worth asking how much political capital we want to spend on laws that address one of the most visible the symptoms, but not the root problem of excessive fossil fuel use. Of course, the counter argument is that we tackle our issues one symptom at a time—banning plastic bags is a first step to broader ecological awareness.