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Thursday, December 4, 2014

How do we address our environmental issues?

    I recently had a couple of experiences that had me thinking about one way our environment is being impacted by the choices we make.

      I went into a local Staples store to buy some refills for my pen.  Being environmentally sensitive I use a pen that I can refill instead of buying those plastic pens that you throw away when they run out of ink.  A small impact on our environment but every little choice helps.  What happened when I checked out struck me as possibly undoing my environmental choice.  Before I could tell the cashier that I didn't need a plastic bag for my one item she had already placed my refills in a plastic bag and handed it to me.  I asked her if she ever asks the customers if they want a bag and she answered that they automatically place items in a plastic bag no matter how many items are purchased.
      The next day going to our local Giant to buy a half gallon of milk I used the self checkout line and was paying for my purchase when a Giant employee had already placed my half gallon of milk in a plastic bag.  I retrieved my milk from the plastic bag and put the bag back for the next customer.  The milk was no harder to carry by itself then when it was in a plastic bag.  This experience had me thinking of the number of times I have seen checkout personnel using individual plastic bags for just one or two items.
      After these experiences I read that the Mayor of Baltimore had vetoed a City Counsel bill that would have banned plastic bags in Baltimore.  I know that the politics of this issue and the way it was passed may have played a large role in the veto but it does bring up the issue of the environmental impacts of these bags. While the estimated time it takes for these bags to biodegrade varies from 20 to 1000 years the reality is that most plastics breakdown but never truly biodegrade completely.  While cutting down trees to make paper bags isn't a good solution to this issue it should be noted that a paper bag decomposes in about 1 month. That plastic bag that would have carried my pen refills would probably have been impacting the environment for many generations of my descendants.  My convenience is insignificant when compared to the environmental impact on the health of the earth for my descendants.
    So this question comes back to the public policy issue of how many of our personal choices should be impacted or limited by government action?  Will encouraging individuals to make more environmentally sound choices through public education ever have the same impact as a government action limiting those choices? This type of choice is at the heart of so many of our political questions today.  We see it in mandating the purchase of health insurance, taxing storm water runoff and yes even in banning sugary drinks in County sponsored events.  When is it necessary for the government to impact our choices for the benefit of our communities and when should we have the freedom to make our own choices?  How you answer that question will probably determines your political orientation.
     Back to the plastic bag issue.  California will be the first state to ban the use of these bags next year.  As so often happens with change it begins in California then moves to us in the northeast and then to the country as a whole.  The eliminating of these environmentally damaging bags can't happen fast enough in my opinion.


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