Best Way to Get Sick? Just Go Green

Michael Walsh18 Mar, 2020 4 Min Read
Green is good.

Psst -- wanna catch a  fatal virus or a deadly bacterial infection? It's simple -- just go Green. John Tierney, a  veteran science writer for the New York Times and an editor at the Manhattan Institute's publication, City Journalhas the scoop:

The COVID-19 outbreak is giving new meaning to those “sustainable” shopping bags that politicians and environmentalists have been so eager to impose on the public. These reusable tote bags can sustain the COVID-19 and flu viruses—and spread the viruses throughout the store.

Researchers have been warning for years about the risks of these bags spreading deadly viral and bacterial diseases, but public officials have ignored their concerns, determined to eliminate single-use bags and other plastic products despite their obvious advantages in reducing the spread of pathogens. In New York State, a new law took effect this month banning single-use plastic bags in most retail businesses, and this week Democratic state legislators advanced a bill that would force coffee shops to accept consumers’ reusable cups—a practice that Starbucks and other chains have wisely suspended to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.

The COVID-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses.

You're supposed to regularly launder your shopping bags, but of course hardly anybody does. As Tierney notes, a 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Grocery Bags and Foodborne Illness found that after the city and county of San Francisco (they are coterminous) banned single use plastic bags, admissions to the city's emergency rooms shot up by 25 percent relative to its neighboring northern California counties that had not banned throwaway bags.

We examine the pattern of emergency room admissions related to bacterial intestinal infections, especially those related to E. coli around the implementation of the San Francisco County ban in October 2007. We find that ER admissions increase by at least one fourth relative to other California counties. Subsequent bans in other California municipalities resulted in similar increases. An examination of deaths related to intestinal infections shows a comparable increase. Using standard estimates of the statistical value of life, we show that the health costs associated with the San Francisco ban swamp any budgetary savings from reduced litter. This assessment is unlikely to be reversed even if fairly liberal estimates of the other environmental benefits are included.

Tierney has also criticized the nonsensical ban on plastic straws, most recently in the Wall Street Journal:

Why do politicians want to take away our plastic bags and straws? This moral panic is intensifying even as evidence mounts that banning plastic is both a waste of money and harmful to the environment. If you want to protect dolphins and sea turtles, you should take special care to place your plastic in the trash, not the recycling bin. And if you’re worried about climate change, you’ll cherish those gossamer grocery bags once you learn the facts about plastic.

During the 1970s, environmentalists wanted to restrict the use of plastic because it was made from petroleum. When the “energy crisis” abated, they denounced plastic for not being biodegradable in landfills. They blamed it for littering the landscape, clogging sewer drains and global warming. Plastic from our “throwaway society” was killing vast numbers of sea creatures, according to a 2017 BBC documentary series. The series prompted Queen Elizabeth II to ban plastic straws and bottles from the royal estates, and it galvanized so many other leaders that greens celebrate what they call the “Blue Planet Effect,” named for the series.

Naturally, the media bears a lot of the blame for plastic's bad rap, convincing the public that the bag you threw in the trash today somehow winds up in the Pacific Ocean tomorrow.

Popular misconceptions have sustained the plastic panic. Environmentalists frequently claim that 80% of plastic in the oceans comes from land-based sources, but a team of scientists from four continents reported in 2018 that more than half the plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” came from fishing boats—mostly discarded nets and other gear. Another study, published last year by Canadian and South African researchers, found that more than 80% of the plastic bottles that had washed up on the shore of Inaccessible Island, an uninhabited extinct volcano in the South Atlantic, originated in China. They must have been tossed off boats from Asia, the greatest source of what researchers call “mismanaged waste.”

Of the plastic carried into oceans by rivers, a 2017 study in Nature Communications estimated, 86% comes from Asia and virtually all the rest from Africa and South America. Some plastic in America is littered on beaches and streets, and winds up in sewer drains. But researchers have found that laws restricting plastic bags and food containers don’t reduce litter. The resources wasted on these anti-plastic campaigns would be better spent on more programs to discourage all kinds of littering.

His conclusion? "Single-use plastic bags aren’t the worst environmental choice at the supermarket—they’re the best. High-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering and environmental efficiency. They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners.... Once discarded, they take up little room in landfills. That they aren’t biodegradable is a plus, because they don’t release greenhouse gases like decomposing paper and cotton bags. The plastic bags’ tiny quantity of carbon, extracted from natural gas, goes back underground, where it can be safely sequestered from the atmosphere and ocean in a modern landfill with a sturdy lining."

The Left typically views their pet peeves and causes through a Manichean lens: either you agree with them or you're in favor of destroying the planet and poisoning small children. It never seems to occur to them that their cure can be worse than the disease -- and that it might, in fact, be the disease itself.

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints, and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace and its sequel, The Fiery Angel. His latest book, Last Stands, a study of military history from the Greeks to the present, will be published by St. Martin's Press in December. Follow him on Twitter @dkahanerules

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