Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My Love for Bags

Last week Jason sent me an article in the Chicago Tribune by Beloit College (my alma mater) professor Ted Rueter. Prof. Rueter, who joined the political science department last year, writes that plastic bags are becoming the great scourge of the environment. Americans discard one hundred billion bags each year. They don't biodegrade (anytime soon anyway) and they are rarely recycled.

Let's set aside that recycling is rarely better for the environment. Let's even set aside the related notion that since people aren't being paid to recycle, it's probably not a good idea to. Instead, I'd like to challenge Prof. Rueter's take on preferences.

Prof. Rueter writes "...plastic bags are four times cheaper than paper bags and are lightweight and water resistant. However, the virtues of plastic are overriden by its vices." In other words, these very real benefits are completely and utterly cancelled out by pollution. I don't know if he actually believes this (perhaps he hasn't yet had to get groceries during one of the Midwest's many nasty storms) but even if it's true he's just one guy. For him plastic bags are not worth the harm they do to the environment (which is actually quite small since they just sit in lined landfills). But everyone else clearly doesn't share his priorities since most of them don't recycle bags.

What it means to be happy or wealthy is always different for anyone you meet. For some it's all about a clean environment. Others care mainly for large paychecks. Still others see fast computers as their Nirvana. These are all nice things, but if we want a happier or wealthier society we have to understand what's good for one person isn't always worth the sacrifice for another. If Prof. Rueter doesn't like plastic bags so much, then he should start collecting them from others instead of telling them to live like him.


Anonymous said...

Telling others they ought to live like him is something he has a right to do.

Forcing others to live like him is another matter altogether.

David said...

Yes, thank you. I forgot to mention that in the article he celebrates taxes and even bans on plastic bags.

jeremy h. said...

From the mind of Conan O'Brien: "San Francisco is a great place. It’s the only place where marijuana is legal, but plastic bags are not."

cupritte said...

I can understand where you are coming from, but I don't necessarily agree. I do appreciate the stores that give you a 10 cents off your purchase for using your own bags. I have even seen groups trying to raise money by giving out recycled bags for a day so the money would go to their group.
I persoanlly happen to like plastic bags, just as a personal preferance, but that's because I use them for my trash. I would rather get free bags from the store than pay for garbage bags at that same store. So there are ways that recycling (in the reduce reuse sense at least) can be very economical.

Carl Marks said...

Unfortunately, paper bags are not much better for the environment, and potentially much worse. If a paper bags goes into a landfill then it is not exposed to sunlight and will not biodegrade, yet takes up 4 times the space of a plastic bag.
Plastic bags can also be reused (recycled) for things such as trash can liners and kitty liter cleaners. Not having my target bags would force me to just buy plastic bags which would only have one use.

Paper is also not an environmentally responsible material. Even recycling paper requires tons of energy and bleach to transform into paper again.