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If We Stopped Shopping Altogether
November 19, 2010 Environment

We’d have no problems with either lead-infused reusable shopping bags, or those evil plastic shopping bags. I have suggested more than once on this site that the hard core anti-human greenies will ultimately find something to go nuts about even when the next new clean energy technology comes about. You can already see it with the disaster that the Cape Wind project has become, or the dozens of cases of people complaining about the health impacts from noisy windmills and from the birds that windmills kill. And you can certainly see it by an unwillingness to go full bore behind nuclear technologies, which are totally clean and extremely safe – and would seem to pose far smaller risks to the planet than the disaster that global warming is. And you can bet your arse that the greenies will oppose solar, hydrogen and whatever else we figure out for much the same reason.

By the way, this most recent case of the reusable bags displays the utter arrogance and lack of knowledge (in the Hayekian sense) of the peddlers of environmental doom stories. For example, we are urged to move to alternative fuels because we are “dependent” on foreign oil (as if that is any more of a big deal than our dependence on foreign t-shirts). And then what do you know, the next solution, hybrid and electric cars, require us to become dependent on something else, which is not even able to be produced in many places around the globe AND we have no idea what the environmental consequences of its use are (e.g. vanadium in electric cars is made almost wholly in China). But hey, it’s not oil.

Extra credit points to whatever student wants to go paragraph by paragraph through the reusable shopping bag article and comment.

"2" Comments
  1. Why don't we all ride bicycles? Time doesn't matter right...

    If you don’t want to read the whole article and my commentary, I can sum it up pretty quick. First of all, when debating environmental policy, it is important to think about indirect costs. Secondly, there are costs associated with all of our actions, and we cannot hope to eliminate any of them. If we do try and improve or minimize these costs, we need to think about all of the consequences. Third of all, costs and mistakes are not an excuse for gov’t intervention. Companies have a lot of incentive to fix their products when something is wrong, and they will do so without the gov’t “investigating” or creating new laws.
    These plastic bags should be viewed in a similar manner to pollution: A cost of a desirable product. They cannot be viewed as evil or else the logical analyses goes right out the door.

    ARTICLE:
    So you care about the environment, and you take a reusable shopping bag with you to the grocery store to avoid polluting the planet with countless plastic sacks. Now you find out your bag is made with potentially harmful lead. What’s an environmentalist to do?

    Me:
    These “countless” plastic sacks are a cost to attaining the things we value and want (similar to pollution). So first of all, we should not forget that that have value, and are not a terrible by-product of capitalism that will cover the entire planet until we are forced to find a new home. Secondly, one can make the argument that people use too many bags and do not internalize all the costs associated with this action, but as Rizzo mentions in his older article, using these bags have their benefits as well, and it is not clear that there is a better option, or if there is even a negative externality at all. For example, when I go to Walmart I ask to have my food put in as few bags as possible (to carry). There is no doubt in my mind that I take longer than most people because the cashier spends a lot more time trying to squeeze food in to my bags…in this sense, is using less bags an even greater problem because I am wasting other people’s time for my selfish ends? My point is, I am not sure whether using less or more plastic bags is a better option incorporating all the direct and indirect costs.

    Article:
    If you’re like Elnora Cooper, nothing.
    “I’m not eating the bag … and I’m not going to get rid of it,” Cooper, 68, said with a chuckle after walking out of a Wegmans Food Markets store in Rochester this week with a reusable bag under her arm.

    Me:
    Miss Cooper here is missing the point.

    Article:
    The latest in a long line of ominous warnings about potentially dangerous products concerns synthetic but reusable bags that may contain traces of lead. The stir in supermarkets and Congress is less about whether the toxin might rub off on food and more about whether they could accumulate in landfills and create an environmental hazard.

    Me:
    Alas, the “solution” is not as simple as we thought. The article again focuses entirely on the environmental impacts, the question now being: Are we better off with lots of plastic bags in landfills, or less lead reusable bags in landfills? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that more should be considered than JUST the environmental impacts.

    Article:
    But since the whole point of the bags is that they’re to be kept, not tossed out, and because the concentration of lead in them is so low, some shoppers are convinced there’s little risk of an imminent toxic catastrophe.

    Me:
    I think there is a lot less than “little risk” of IMMINENT TOXIC CATASTROPHE.

    Article:
    “I switched to reusable bags six or seven years ago to keep plastic out of landfills,” said Cooper, a retired nurse. “I’ll keep using the one with the lead, truthfully, before I start using plastic again.”

    Me:
    I wonder if in 10 years from now she will say, “I switched to reusable bags 17 years ago to keep plastic out of landfills and put led in to our Earth.” It seems to me that Miss Cooper does not know one way or the other which is worse for the environment, but she insists she will keep using plastic. It seems to me like she is worried more about her image as an “environmentalist” than she is with the environmental impacts of her actions themselves.

    Article:
    The Rochester-based Wegmans chain of 77 stores in several Eastern states halted sales of two styles of reusable bags in September after tests by a local environmental group found they contained potentially unsafe levels of lead. Wegmans said there’s no evidence the 750,000 bags it sold pose a health threat.
    “The eventual disposal of the bags is the only issue, from an environmental perspective,” said spokeswoman Jo Natale, urging customers to return the bags for replacement when they’re no longer useful.
    The company, which has sold an estimated 4.5 million reusable bags at its stores in five states, has not decided yet how it will dispose of returned bags.

    Me:
    Good old unintended consequences. In an attempt to solve a problem that may or may not have had a better solution, they have created a new problem.

    Article:
    Lead can cause learning disabilities in children and fertility problems in adults if ingested.
    A recent investigation by The Tampa Tribune found excessive amounts of lead in reusable bags bought at Winn-Dixie and other major retailers. The lead appears to be in a form that’s not easily extracted or “leached” out.

    Me:
    This imminent catastrophe seems to be getting more and more likely!!!!!

    Article:
    But over time in a landfill, laboratory experts told the newspaper, the bags break down and paint can flake off. Lead was used in the paint to add color, opaqueness and durability; it has been banned in wall paint in the U.S. since the late 1970s.
    Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, on Sunday called on the Food and Drug Administration to open an investigation into the bags.

    Me:
    Right….The chains have realized the problem, are doing what they can to solve it, and have stopped selling them….but the gov’t needs to get involved. I’m waiting for a new law that requires all bags be decomposable, after all that would be best right…because the only thing that we need to consider is the environment right…..because there are no such things as other costs right….

    Article:
    “When our families go to the grocery store looking for safe and healthy foods to feed their kids, the last thing they should have to worry about are toxic bags,” he said.

    Me:
    True. Perhaps a little over dramatic, but I would like to go to the grocery store and not worry about toxic bags…..wait a minute…I already go to the grocery store without worrying about toxic bags….I wonder why I don’t worry about that normally? And I wonder why Wegman’s thinks it’s in their best interest to NOT sell toxic bags. But yes Mr Senator, your right, after Wegman’s has done what it can to solve the problem, and the people who have bought the bags don’t even seem to care…you should definitely get it involved. It is your duty as Senator / Protector to solve all of our problems for us.

    Article:
    The next day, Long Island chain King Kullen and Jacksonville, Fla.-based Winn-Dixie said they were pulling some brands of reusable bags. Winn-Dixie and Tampa-based Publix are asking suppliers to find ways to make reusable grocery bags with less lead.

    Me:
    Here it comes, decomposable bags.

    Article:
    Reusable bags, mostly made in China, account for about 10 percent to 15 percent of the U.S. market of grocery bags. Wegmans’ Chinese-made “green pea” and “holiday 2009” bags had lead levels seven to eight times higher than allowed under New York state packaging regulations.
    But after they were removed, tests for “leachable lead levels” came back at less than 0.1 parts per million, said Kathleen O’Donnell, Wegmans’ chief food scientist.
    “That level is classified as a non-hazardous waste and could go into any landfill,” she said.
    Me:
    Hurraaaay! Now we can all go back to using reusable bags because they are good, and plastic bags that save time are evil.

    Article:
    Dr. John Rosen, a lead poisoning specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, said any source of lead exposure, no matter how small, should be eliminated if possible.
    “I haven’t seen any numbers on the lead concentration in shopping bags, but for my own grandchildren’s safety, I’d say to my daughters, ‘Don’t use them,'” Rosen said.

    Me:
    The debate goes on. What is better, plastic or reusable?! (I wonder if anyone will mention that there is more to this debate)

    Article:
    The bags join other pilloried consumer goods that have raised eyebrows recently, such as children’s jewelry and Shrek-themed novelty glasses that contained cadmium.

    Me
    I bet Shrek themed glasses don’t contain cadmium anymore….and I bet it’s not because the gov’t FORCED anyone to stop making them with it.

    Article:
    To Beth Lavigne, the bag brouhaha sounds more like “a blip.”
    “If there’s a problem, they’ll get it fixed. … It won’t be an issue anymore,” said Lavigne, 61, a college administrator who owns a dozen reusable bags. “Reusables are a good idea. But who knows what’s in the plastic bags?”

    Me
    The Good: Your right! They will get it fixed (the companies that is, not the gov’t) And who knows, maybe there is something bad in the plastic bags…but I bet we would have figured that out by now as we’ve been using those for…..a long time.
    The Bad: Resuables are a good idea….fact? (according to Microsoft word…resuables is not a word)

    Article:
    Mary Siegrist, an 81-year-old former teacher, said as she queued up at a Wegmans deli counter that she was all for studying the issue.
    “In other countries, things have to be proven to be safe before being put into circulation,” she said. “Here, we put it into circulation and then find out later it’s unsafe.”

    Me:
    Your right. America is not safe. And no other countries ever make mistakes! I guess we need more gov’t regulation!?…
    “, Health Canada, issued a warning to Canadians not to use a brand of toothpaste found to contain “unacceptable levels” of diethylene glycol”
    “Two large-scale, voluntary toy recall campaigns were announced in Europe by Mattel Inc. on 3 and 15 August

    Article:
    Anyone concerned about the possibility of lead in their shopping bags can rest easy if they use cotton canvas bags rather than the more colorful synthetic type, said Russ Haven of the New York Public Interest Research Group in Albany.
    “At this point,” he said, “the canvas bags have a clean bill of health.”

    Me:
    I stress one point. There are costs to every single action we take, and we cannot possibly hope to “fix” any of them. I honestly don’t know what is better, plastic or reusable bags, but I do know there is more to the argument than what is being debated.

  2. A great dialogue, Wintercow.

    One interlude I liked was Senator Schumer entering stage left, the old gasbag gassing about bags. You should get an Oscar for Best Scene in a Screenplay.

    By the way, every time I hear someone referring to our buying foreign oil as if it were as bad as machine-gunning all grandmothers, I wonder whether they realize a lot of that foreign oil comes from Canada, and Mexico, too. Do we want to turn our country into a land of bicycles and rickshaws because we want to screw the Canadians?

    It would be great to raise this subject at the Tim Horton’s coffee shop on the shores of Great Slave Lake.

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