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Issues & Insights

The War On Plastic

By this time next year, those plastic bags grocers have been providing their customers as a courtesy for decades will be contraband in New York. In practical terms, it’s meaningless. But it does give policymakers and activists an opportunity for virtue signaling.

New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have agreed on legislation that will prohibit retailers from giving customers single-use plastic bags beginning in March 2020. It will be the second state to enact a statewide ban, following California’s environmentally woke lead. Hawaii’s ban was not enacted by the state but is effectively a statewide ban as every county there prohibits retailers from handing out plastic bags.

The stated reason for plastic bans is environmental protection. The common complaint is that there are too many plastic bags in our oceans and rivers, and too many blowing around on our streets, sidewalks, and open areas. But that’s merely a pretense. Politicians limit our freedoms because they want to look good for noisy activists, impress the media, and strut like peacocks in full view of their fellow lawmakers.

No matter how noble sounding they might be, plastic bag bans in the U.S. are essentially useless. Consider the evidence:

  • Ninety percent of the plastic bags in the oceans is dumped from eight rivers in Asia and two in Africa, says the the Hemholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany.
  • Only about 1 percent of total ocean plastic comes from the U.S.
  • Plastic bags are roughly 0.06 percent of all visible trash.
  • Even the environmental group Greenpeace has acknowledged that it’s “very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. The evidence shows just the opposite.”

Despite the facts, policymakers are all too often driven to fix problems they can do nothing about. Meanwhile, real issues remain unresolved because the effort needed to do so has been expended on the superficial and the useless.

J. Frank Bullitt

J. Frank Bullitt has been writing professionally since 1986. After covering local news for years, and putting in some time in Washington, D.C., he began writing opinions in 1998, covering a wide variety of domestic and international topics from a limited-government point of view.

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