The Triumphant Return of Plastic Bags

Tom Finnerty11 Apr, 2020 2 Min Read
That was then, this is now.

Back in January, my little New England town voted unanimously to forbid stores from providing "single use plastic bags" for their customers. I found this term to be fairly annoying of course -- for my wife and me, plastic bags are anything but "single use." We use them as liners for our bathroom garbage can. We wrap diapers in them. We pick up dog poop with them. And -- you might think this is low class, but it was completely adorable -- one windy day my daughters got the idea to tie string to some plastic bags and ended up with insta-kites. They had loads of fun running around the neighborhood! Which is to say: single use, my foot!

Their object of the selectmen was, of course, to save the environment by encouraging everyone to pick up a stack of reusable shopping bags, and lug them around on every shopping trip, the way the Europeans do. Which, honestly, is not the biggest deal in the world -- I had a few of them in the back of my closet left over from my days living in the People's Republic of Ontario -- but it's still fairly inconvenient. Every time my wife has texted me a list of groceries to pick up on my way home and I've had to decide whether I would awkwardly carry every item out to the car in my arms or if I had it in me to rush home, grab a bag, and head back out, I've cursed our idiotic plastic bag ban.

And it is idiotic, since the environmental benefits used to justify it are completely imaginary. If you haven't already, make sure to read John Tierney's excellent Wall Street Journal piece from back in February entitled Plastic Bags Help the Environment:

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. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint.

So you will imagine my delight earlier this week when, upon coming to the end of the onerous drudgery that grocery shopping has become during this blasted quarantine, mine eyes alighted upon this glorious sight (a picture of which I promptly texted to my wife):

VICTORY!

For, you see, it turns out that reusable grocery bags are reservoirs of disease (something we've actually known for a long time, but which our all-wise rulers didn't take seriously until now) so much so that several states have gone so far as banning their usage for the duration of the present state of emergency, and have started reversing their ridiculous plastic-bag bans.

Anyway, I'm really glad to have my plastic bags back. Thank heaven for small mercies, as my Irish mother used to say. Or, in this case I guess, thank Wuhan.

Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.

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