Wednesday, December 30, 2009

PLASTIC BAGS - December 31, 2009

A strange disease of the mind has come over to us from somewhere. I encountered it when living in London. There is a campaign to get people to save their plastic grocery bags and recycle them. Those who now use them for disposing of their kitchen garbage are told that they should use specially prepared bags for that purpose, under penalty of being heavily fined for wasting. This is in spite of the fact that re-making the small, light ones requires more energy, including human effort, than making them from scratch. The attention is paid on the re-use of materials, rather than the re-use of the bags themselves. I observe that each of the big black bags carries about two or three times as much as the little ones, and uses even more plastic. And then there is the fact that many of the used bags are not suitable, due to contamination by the likes of spilled milk. And there is the cost, in money and oil, of packing the big bags, distributing them into the supermarkets and taking them home, together with the groceries in the condemned little ones. A little consideration would tell us that using the same bags twice each would save on cost, on energy, on convenience and that no bag, on average, is saved as thoroughly as the one left on the supermarket shelf and unsold. The attention to only a single feature, as well as the attention to a current idea, leaves us with a poor attention to the wrong feature of the problem. I do not think that this campaign is motivated by the desire to get people to pay for additional bags, under the illusion that they are contributing to the solution. I really do think that those pursuing the problem by a campaign of punishment are following an old folly that the answer to every difficulty is to be found in outlawing the imagined problem. That is a folly especially common in Western Europe and North America.

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