Have we gotten to a point where U.S. voters are comfortable with legalizing marijuana, and also criminalizing plastic bags? And what does that mean to the plastics industry?
A story, and some reader comments, from the Missourian newspaper in Columbia, Mo., got me thinking about the connection between the two issues.
The story, “Columbia City Council says no to marijuana, yes to new buildings,” barely mentions the plastic bag issue. From the looks of the story, the newspaper sent three reporters to the Columbia City Council meeting last month. Makes sense, given the hot topic on the agenda — a proposal that would have allowed residents to grow up to two marijuana plants.
The Council rejected the measure on a 4-3 vote, after two hours of debate.
Meanwhile, the plastic bag issue came up when Jan Dye of the Sierra Club and Frederick vom Saal, a University of Missouri biology professor who is well known for his research on endocrine disruptors, presented a petition calling for a ban on single-use plastic bags in Columbia.
According to the Missourian report, vom Saal said there are “health and environmental dangers to excessive use of ethylene plastic bags. When plastic bags are in the environment, harmful chemicals affect the food chain and landfills.”
The newspaper report makes no mention of endocrine-related health dangers of polyethylene bags. Those issues are more closely associated with bisphenol A (which are used to make polycarbonate and epoxy resins) and certain phthalates (used as plasticizers in some PVC compounds).
But having vom Saal show up to a local City Council meeting to speak in favor of a bag ban is sort of like bringing Alice Walker to a school board meeting to talk about not banning “The Color Purple.” It got my attention.
And it got me thinking — when the time comes for a vote on the plastic bag ban, will it pass? Will it be closer than the marijuana vote? Will it take two hours to debate?
Plastic bags bans certainly aren't being approved everywhere they're being proposed these days. But there's some momentum now that California has a statewide ban on the books. Supporters of bag bans are stepping up the pressure.
And I found it interesting that, when I checked the Missourian's story a few days after it was first posted, the only comments posted by readers weren't about legalizing marijuana. They were about banning plastic bags! Remember, that's an angle that the newspaper didn't even mention in the headline.
I suspect that if we put the issues to a referendum, in most U.S. cities and states, we'd see pot legalized (at least to some degree) ... and, while I'm not quite as confident, I think most voters would reject plastic bag bans.
But city councils and state legislatures, where the real debates about these issues are taking place, aren't always in touch with regular voters. Activists and grass-roots supporters of bag bans have a louder voice. And elected officials around the country seem to be paying attention to their arguments.
Don Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”