Ari Armstrong, Exclusives, Gold Dome, Politics, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Colorado Democrats virtue signal with plastic bag ban

I hope giving up convenient grocery bags was on your list of New Year’s resolutions, because you’ll be doing it whether you wanted to or not. Why make your own decisions when Democratic legislators can decide for you? They know better than you how to run your life, after all.

If you read my 32-page paper on Jared Polis’s supposed “libertarianism,” you already knew about the coming ten-cent fees on “single-use plastic carryout bags” and on “recycled paper carryout bags,” and about the ban on plastic bags starting in 2024.

Democrats think you’re stupid

The legislators who passed this bill obviously think that you are an idiot. One way you can tell this is that the bill, signed by Gov. Polis on July 6, 2021, takes effect between January 1, 2023, and July 1, 2024. Yet the bill contains the emergency “safety clause,” declaring itself “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.”

Again, Democratic legislators know better than you, so if they have to flagrantly lie to you about an emergency to evade a possible petition to block the measure, so be it. Obviously if you can’t even be trusted to decide how to carry your groceries home, you can’t be trusted to decide whether to challenge the bill under the state Constitution. Clearly you’re just too stupid.

What’s the point of the bill? It states, “The General Assembly finds, determines, and declares that limiting the use of single-use plastic carryout bags and expanded polystyrene products will mitigate the harmful effects on our state’s natural resources and our environment that result from disposing of these products in our landfills.”

But it’s silly to count only the costs of the bags while ignoring the benefits. Compared to thicker bags, plastic grocery-style bags are extremely convenient, very cheap, much less energy intensive to produce, reusable for a variety of purposes (such as trash can liners), and sanitary.

Legislators who ignore the point about convenience basically treat your time as worthless. Granted, it doesn’t take a lot of extra time to stash reusable bags in your car and remember to take them into the store, but the imposition is another straw on the backs of busy people just trying to run errands and get home.

Part of the time cost is checking heftier multi-use bags for grime and cleaning them. Regarding sanitation, as a New York info page points out, reusing bags for groceries “may leave behind germs like E. coli or Salmonella. If the bags are not properly washed and dried before they are used again, these germs remain and can make you sick.”

This brings us to the catch-22 of all such regulations. Either it’s really not that big a deal to switch to multi-use bags, in which case it should be easy to persuade people to use them; or it is a substantial imposition to switch, in which case government has no proper business forcing the issue. Either way, the regulations are unwarranted.

Ignoring benefits

Regarding landfills, let us concede that they have costs, including pollution costs. It would be better if we could sprinkle our trash with pixie dust to make it disappear, or dump it into a Star Trek replicator for complete recycling.

In the real world, we again need to consider benefits as well as costs. The reason we don’t recycle 100% of our trash is that it would be prohibitively expensive in terms of energy and time to do so. Life is about trade-offs, and, given current technology, landfills are marvelous innovations that massively curb pollution of our living environments in an economical way.

As the industry site “Ban the Bag” points out–based on EPA data–plastic bags account for a tiny fraction of total waste. But the Colorado legislature can’t very well demand that people stop using plastic in things like toys, furniture, office supplies, and product packaging. Plastic grocery bags are something the legislature can ban, so ban them it did, however pointless the exercise. This is about virtue signaling, not outcomes.

If you read the critics of landfills, most of the concerns pertain to plastic, not paper. So why is the legislature also taxing (er, imposing “fees” upon) paper bags? An article from the environmentalist Natural Resources Defense Council offers a clue. The author writes, “Let’s be clear: Environmentalists don’t see switching to single-use paper bags as the solution to kicking our plastic habit. That’s why any good plastic bag ban attempts to avoid a surge in paper bag use by also implementing a paper bag fee, ideally nudging shoppers to bring bags from home instead.”

If government were concerned with reducing external harms of plastics, rather than with virtue signaling, it would do something like impose a tax on the first sale of all plastics, and use that money to mitigate the harms of plastic waste. Such a tax would incentivize producers and consumers to reduce their use of plastics and look for substitutes, without playing favorites or totally overriding consumer choice. That’s not something feasibly done at the state level, given so much finished plastic is shipped here. I’d still be skeptical of such a policy, but at least it would make some sense. But Colorado’s Democrats are not interested in sensible policies; they want to control your choices.

Now that the legislature is even harder left than it was before, I’m sure we can look forward to more tax-and-regulate policies. After all, you can still make some decisions for yourself in the economic realm, so there is yet more work for the Democrats to do.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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