The Failure of Feel-Good Environmentalism

Are you one of those shmucks who uses cloth grocery bags instead of the plastic ones the store gives you?  You may think that you are doing a good deed toward Mother Nature.  Think again.  According the the Daily Caller’s Rick Berman, “feel-good” environmentalism may actually cause more harm than good.

According to the Wall Street Journal, we saw it as 50 million preventable deaths occurred after pressure from environmentalists resulted in a ban on DDT. We saw it as people switched to trans fat-laden margarine after pseudo-experts demonized butter. We see it in the huge cleanup projects that are now required after some activists thought dumping tires into the oceans in the early 1970s would help sea life. And we saw it in my last column, as a nationwide ban on horse slaughter has actually increased horse abandonment and suffering.

We’re already seeing some of the unintended consequences of banning or taxing plastic bags.

Taxes and bans will drive consumers toward reusable grocery bags. But this might not be such a good thing.

According to recent testing commissioned by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit organization that I manage, a significant number of reusable bags are tainted with excessive levels of lead. The bags we tested had lead levels as high as 697 parts per million. That’s nearly seven times the level allowed under the “Toxics in Packaging” model law on the books in 19 states.

These weren’t just knock-off brands, either. Some of the most lead-laden bags came from stores like CVS, Bloom and Giant. One bore the logo of the Oregon Ducks football team.

Further, a recent study from the University of Arizona found that more than half the bags it tested came up positive for fecal coliform bacteria, and 12 percent tested positive for E. coli. This is probably because more than half the people who carry their groceries home in reusable bags have never washed them.

The environmental benefits of switching to reusable bags are also questionable. Almost 3 billion of these bags have been imported into the U.S. since 1999, according to data from the U.S. International Trade Commission. That’s almost 10 bags for every man, woman and child.

Why so many? “Reusable” bags often aren’t actually reused.

According to one survey in San Francisco, where disposable plastic bags are already banned, 58 percent of shoppers forget to take their reusable bags to the store. When you consider that each reusable bag has 28 times the carbon footprint of its disposable counterpart — and that researchers recommend wrapping meat in disposable plastic bags to avoid those nasty bacteria — you can see just how shaky the supposed environmental benefit really is.

Here in D.C., there is a five cent tax on plastic bags.  That includes the little bags you get from Subway.  The surcharge is annoying and stupid.  It doesn’t really encourage good behavior.  It forces people to accept mediocrity.  Plastic bags were invented to people didn’t have to use cloth bags (which, if you don’t constantly wash, contain bacteria and other nasty stuff).  Now, were are regressing.  Rather than tax people who use the plastic bags, why not let the free market determine what kinds of bags peoples use?  If the materials required to make the bags become scarce, the price will go up and retailer s will either stop using plastic bags or charge consumers for them.  At this point, I see no reason for a meddling government to stand in someone’s way of using a plastic bag.




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