The Conundrum of Consumer Bags

So, the town of Barrington is well on its way to banning the use of plastic shopping bags among the commercial establishments within its borders:

… the town conservation commission has already voted to ban the use of plastic grocery bags at retail stores. The proposal now goes before the Town Council for review.

If it passes, Barrington would become the second town in New England to impose such a law, increas ingly popular along the trendy West Coast. San Francisco banned plastic bags in large grocery stores and pharmacies in 2007, followed by Oakland and Los Angeles.

The move is triply surreal.  For one thing, as American Progressive Bag Alliance spokeswoman argues, “Paper bags are worse for the earth.”  That is, the ban would be a government restraint on human activity that is at best debatable.

Second, I remember when the big push was to save trees by reducing the use of paper bags. Naturally, retailers were happy for the change, inasmuch as plastic is cheaper, but people used the bags for all sorts of things (notably, covering school books), and many lamented their virtual disappearance.  One doesn’t hear about the need to “save trees” quite so often, these days.

Last and most important:  Are things really going so swimmingly in Rhode Island that these are the battles to be fought in the civic sphere?  Folding this into the thumb-twirling (or worse) General Assembly session just ended, it is as if the people in leadership roles, in the state, are subconsciously aware that they have no solutions to problems of economic stagnation and so are occupying themselves with minor, fashionable issues.

The hit to the state’s economy from a ban on plastic bags, in Barrington no less, is not likely to be substantial.  But it’s one more regulation.  One more cost.  One more bright marker that the State of Rhode Island and its subdivisions will be perfectly willing to change the terms of your economic existence on a whim and, as Center Ace Hardware owner George Tamer puts it, without saying, “Hey, Mr. Businessman. I have this bright idea. What do you think?”

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