27 November 2008

$0.05 of Knee-Jerk Stupidity from City Hall

Why am I not surprised that Mayor Miller and crew have once again taken a serious issue and reacted in a BAH way? The plague of the plastic bags, that suddenly has become environmental enemy number one, is to be dealt with through coercion, consultation only with privileged interests, and a justification that reinforces one of the major structural dysfunctions of the modern business corporation.

Miller announced a 5-cent charge that is to be paid by consumers for each plastic bag used in, say, a grocery store. Most of these plastic bags end up in the garbage (most often used for containing the garbage), and this is seen as a Major Problem for solid waste management. The problem is that the profit from the sale of plastic bags ends up in the pockets of the grocery stores, who claim that they will use the windfall for things like "staff training" (presumably on how to handle customers who are upset at the increase in their grocery bill.

The modern business corporation is a very efficient externalizing machine. In other words, it is designed to slough off as many of its own costs as possible onto others, be it consumers, or society as a whole. With this announcement Mayor Miller has given them a holiday gift: the ability to collectively profit by approximately 3 cents a bag for between 400 and 500 million bags a year. The number of plastic bags is unlikely to be reduced significantly: as one anonymous spokesperson for the city pointed out, the additional cost is unlikely to be a burden to families. That, of course, means that it's unlikely to induce a change in behaviour.

With a paternalistic mentality of coercion and non-collaboration that Miller has displayed throughout his term, a much more progressive alternative seems to have been completely ignored. He could work with the retailers to shift over to oxy-biodegradable plastics for bags. They then could be combined with the organic waste and composted - after all, the majority of plastic grocery bags are indeed used to hold waste. I'm sure there are other alternatives available as well - both to garbage issues, as well as to the Mayor and many of his sycophantic councillors.

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1 comment:

Harold Jarche said...

When we lived in Europe 20 years ago most places did not have plastic bags or you had to pay extra for one - it was just the culture and we learned to carry our own bags. However, there was another pattern, mandated by law, that really changed behaviour.

All stores had to have containers for excess packaging that could be discarded by customers after purchase. The stores would then have to pay to have this garbage removed and they in turn put pressure on their suppliers to use less packaging. This also worked because each household was limited in the amount of garbage that would be picked up each week, so we made sure that we didn't take any extra home.

In the long run, less garbage