Bag the ban


It was only a matter of time.

A small group of our fellow citizens has decided that they know better than the rest of us and want to dictate how we can carry our shopping purchases out of a store. Ten citizens have signed a petition to place an article on the May 1 Annual Town Meeting to prohibit the use of so called “thin film” plastic checkout bags in Wakefield.

Who could have imagined twenty years ago – or even a decade ago – that purchasing marijuana at a store in Wakefield would be viewed as perfectly normal, but using a plastic bag to carry a half-gallon of milk out of a store would make you a lawbreaker?

Well, depending on what happens at Town Meeting this year, that could be Wakefield in the very near future.

The proposed new bylaw has two main purposes. One is to take away your choice to use a plastic bag to carry home items that you’ve purchased in a store. But more importantly, this bylaw is about making the proponents feel good about themselves.

Just listen and they’ll be happy to tell you what noble, virtuous people they are.

“The purpose of this bylaw is to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, preserve the oceans, protect wildlife, and reduce the amount of trash that ends up on the streets and in landfills by using recyclable, reusable, or compostable bags instead of thin-film single-use plastic checkout bags.”

The implication, of course, is that if you use plastic bags you are against preserving the oceans, opposed to protecting wildlife and in favor of more trash on the streets. How do you live with yourself?

As virtuous as the bag banners see themselves, they view plastic bag users as quite the opposite. In the PC hierarchy, the only group lower than plastic bag users are smokers (except for marijuana smokers, who are nature’s noblemen).

I don’t litter. I am responsible for literally zero percent of any plastic bag litter that you may see. Make that less than zero, because on the occasions that I see a loose bag blowing around, I pick it up and dispose of it properly. So why must I be denied a modern convenience just because a tiny minority of people are slobs?

And just for the record, precisely none of the plastic bags disposed of in Wakefield’s household trash go into landfills, because Wakefield’s rubbish goes to a facility in Haverhill where it is incinerated.

Those who want to ban plastic bags tend to be the same people who were behind the move to ban one of the greatest American inventions ever: Thomas Edison’s incandescent lightbulb.

If people decide that CFL and LED bulbs are a better choice than incandescent bulbs, they will buy them. Same with plastic bags. Lots of people already go to the supermarket with their green cloth bags believing that they’re saving the planet. If that is a choice that more and more people come to see as preferable, then plastic bags will disappear naturally and organically.

But the bag banners think you’re not smart enough to make the “right” choice. They see themselves as the enlightened ones who must enact laws to force the ignorant masses to do the right thing.

The fact is that people like their plastic bags. They are convenient and useful. That’s why stores provide them for free. Their customers want them.

It’s called the free market, but those who would impose artificial restrictions on ordinary everyday products like light bulbs and plastic bags don’t care much for free market systems – or business in general.

Just look at the penalties the proposed bylaw would impose on any bourgeois capitalist who dares to continue offering plastic bags to his customers.

“The penalty for such violation shall be a written warning for the first offense, a fine of $25 for a second offense and a fine of $50 for the third and any subsequent offense.”

How business-friendly.

If I were faced with a choice of two stores from which to buy a few groceries on my way home, and one offered plastic bags and one didn’t, I’d choose the one with the plastic bags. Every time. And a lot of other people would too.

I conducted a modest survey yesterday. I stood outside of Farmland and watched the first 10 people leaving the store. Every single one of them had their purchases in plastic bags. I could have watched 100 customers exit the store and the result would have been the same. People want plastic bags. But a small group of local people want to tell Farmland that they can’t give their customers what they want.

I would never dream of telling the shopper with the grey ponytail in the supermarket checkout line that he can’t have his filthy, bacteria-ridden reusable cloth bags. That’s his choice, his preference. And as silly and pointless as I think it is, I respect that choice. Yet, somehow I must be denied my choice, my preference.

The fact is that plastic bags make up a tiny percentage of the waste stream. They require less energy to produce and transport than even paper bags. Also, the proposed bylaw illogically targets only one type of plastic bag, deeming other kinds of plastic bags acceptable.

“Thin-film plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items, and other similar merchandise, typically without handles, are still permissible.”

Gee, thanks. Is it OK if I use a shopping cart?

The great majority of people favor having a choice to use plastic bags. The minority knows this and that’s why they want to ban them. If everybody agreed with them, there would be no reason to impose a ban.

You may not care much about the $87 million town budget, but if you’re one of the great majority who like having the choice to use plastic bags, or even if you just hate being told what to do by a group of know-it-alls, you must attend Town Meeting, which opens on May 1.

Otherwise, don’t complain to me when you can’t get a plastic shopping bag in Wakefield.

[This column originally appeared in the March 23, 2017 Wakefield Daily Item.]

4 Responses to “Bag the ban”

  1. 1 Ryan

    “I don’t litter. I am responsible for literally zero percent of any plastic bag litter that you may see. Make that less than zero, because on the occasions that I see a loose bag blowing around, I pick it up and dispose of it properly. So why must I be denied a modern convenience just because a tiny minority of people are slobs?”

    I don’t drive high. I’ve never driven while high, I’m literally responsible for zero motor vehicle accidents caused by impaired driving. So why must I be denied something I enjoy because a tiny minority of people are idiots?

    • 2 Mark Sardella

      Plastic bags actually perform a useful function. Getting wasted is not a useful function. But I’m not surprised that you can’t comprehend the difference.

      • 3 Ryan

        Mark you went to UMass Boston and write for the Wakefield Daily Item. Acting like you’re smarter than every person that disagrees with you isn’t a good look. You’re like Dan Shaughnessy with significantly less wit.

        And to address the actual substance- even if you ‘dispose’ of the bags properly, do you think they magically disintegrate in your home? It’s not just the small percentage of bags that float around as litter and wind up causing harm to animals.

        Also this logic is fascinating:
        “But a small group of local people want to tell Farmland that they can’t give their customers what they want.”
        No, a small group of local people want to bring it to a vote. If it passes, it will mean that more people wanted it than did not. Of all people you should probably know how local government works.

      • 4 Mark Sardella

        I am aware of where I went to school and for which newspaper I write. But I understand that your point was to remind me that I am a mere small-town journalist, and therefore my writing lacks the merit of someone with an Ivy League degree who writes for the Boston Globe. The implication is that I should just shut up.
        However, if you’re honest you’ll admit that what bothers you is that I have a public platform that you don’t have and that I voice an opinion that you don’t share. If my writing were so bad and my influence so negligible, you wouldn’t feel the need to disparage me by minimizing my education and my employment. Resentment and envy are not attractive traits.
        In fact, if you’re honest you’ll admit that if I had written a piece in favor of banning plastic bags, you’d be praising me – or al least liking it on Facebook.
        But something tells me you lack the self-awareness to admit any of that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: