You know an issue is the focus of mainstream American thought when USA Today makes it the focus of its lead editorial. That's the case today with a thoughtful column on the San Franciso plastic bag ban. McPaper comes out against the ban, with a provocative headline: "Our view on the environment: Plastic-bag ban full of holes." But the column isn't exactly a pro-plastics essay. The writers just feel that the ban is misdirected.
The real culprit is the slob who litters or refuses to recycle either one — or communities that don't provide the means for him to do so. Our throwaway society is to blame as well. The best answer to the paper or plastic question is neither. Each individual can do more to help the environment by reusing whatever bags groceries distribute or buying a canvas sack to carry goods. Public education campaigns about littering and recycling can help more than ineffective bans on products that are used every day by billions of people worldwide. It needn't take 1,000 years to alter anti-social behavior.Keeping with the newspaper's tradition, the editorial page also features a counterpoint. In this case, the author is Ross Mirkarimi, a San Francisco supervisor who authored the ban. Its headline: "100 billion reasons for ban. We're protecting the environment, and we're saving oil, too." (That definitely would depend on whether consumers start using reusable bags, because if they don't the energy will continue to be used, only in the manufacture and transport of paper or degradable plastic bags. And the claim ignores the fact that U.S. polyethylene producers use natural gas, not oil, to make resin. But let's not cloud this argument with too many facts...) "Despite San Francisco's excellent residential recycling program, the recycling rate for plastic bags is only 1 percent," he writes. "Each year, we spend $8 million sweeping bags from our streets, untangling them from recycling machinery, scooping them from storm drains so sewers don't back up, and, ultimately, dumping them into landfills. Local governments are subsidizing the production of waste because producers know that whatever they manufacture and distribute, taxpayers will shoulder the bill. This is unacceptable." How many more U.S. cities will adopt plastic bag bans this year? In the spirit of the NCAA tournament (I still can't believe I picked Texas), I'd put the over-under at 10.