California legislative stupidity (continued)

Having screwed up restaurants and bars so badly that it seeks to repeal a new 2014 law that is generating plastic refuse for the state’s landfills, the California state legislature is contemplating new regulatory legislation in the name of reducing plastic waste going to landfills. Humorist Judy Gruen explains in a hilarious Wall Street Journal piece titled “Cecoming a  Bagless Bag Lady in Los Angeles”:

Limiting the number of plastic bags that can litter the landscape or clog the oceans is a worthy goal, but laws that begin with good intentions often have unintended consequences.

Consider what's unfolding in Los Angeles. On Jan. 1, the city became the largest in the nation to outlaw the use of free plastic bags in retail grocery stores. Customers who arrive at the market bagless are charged 10 cents for each plastic bag to hold their purchases.

But apparently going after grocery-store bags wasn't enough: A California State Senate bill (SB 270) is now attempting to outlaw free single-use plastic bags in convenience stores, pharmacies and liquor stores statewide. While the bill needs to clear both state houses and get Gov. Jerry Brown's approval, it would impose the same dime-a-bag fee on customers throughout the state beginning July 1, 2015. Larger stores would also be required to set up recycling bins for those bags made of polyethylene and other materials that begin with the prefix "poly." One wonders: Why would customers recycle bags when they need them for shopping?

So what’s the problem? Isn’t it a good thing to eliminate plastic waste? After all, that other new law is generating huge numbers of plastic gloves that must be thrown away by restaurants and bars. Well, it turns out that food put into bags that are re-used (in place of one-time only plastic bags) often dposits bacteria and other nasties in the bags, where it sits and festers, and contaminates the next bit of food put into the bag. Who could possibly have predicted that? Certainly not the state legislators:

A potential profit center for supermarkets

After San Francisco introduced its ban on non-compostable plastic bags in large grocery stores in 2007, researchers discovered a curious spike in E. coli infections, which can be fatal, and a 46% increase in deaths from food-borne illnesses, according to a study published in November 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University. "We show that the health costs associated with the San Francisco ban swamp any budgetary savings from reduced litter," the study's authors observed.

Affirming this yuck factor, a 2011 study from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found bacteria in 99% of reusable polypropylene bags tested; 8% of them were carrying E. coli. The study, though it mainly focused on plastic bags, also looked at two cotton reusable bags—and both contained bacteria.

Bag-ban boosters counter that consumers just need to wash their bags and use separate bags for fish and meat. If only my washing machine had a "reusable bag vinegar rinse cycle." A paltry 3% of shoppers surveyed in that same 2011 study said they washed their reusable bags.

I have been living under this same set of rules thanks to the geniuses that run Alameda County, California, where I live. And I have a clue to offer. Those damn multi-use bags that they sell the stores tend to fall apart after you wash them a few times. And calculations of the ecological impact of manufacturing and distributing  these multi-use bags show that the net environmental impact requires a few hundred uses before you are better off than simply using the one-use bags.

But who cares?  It is all about feeling good. Ed Lasky points out that George Will calls this “gesture liberalism.” A self-righteous feeling trumps reality when it comes to the environment and regulations.