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California saying bye, bye to single-use plastic produce bags
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Ban one-use produce bags from grocery stores?

It’s not a tragedy.

It’s about time.

It will happen by Jan. 1, 2025 under a bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The legislation authored by State Senator Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, makes extreme sense when it comes to burying things in landfills that are compostable or — if recycled with other organic material such as food waste — can be put to new uses

It is also a version of old school tech that was displaced by so-called “disruptive innovation.” But instead of the silicon kings doing the disruption it was the emerging plastics industry in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

And, from a consumer standpoint, it is easier to use. Much easier.

The one-use plastic bags are flimsy.

Rare is the shopper that hasn’t at one point become mildly — or extremely — frustrated trying to open produce bags.

That leads to a lot of waste. It is common to see produce departments sprinkled with plastic bags that people gave up trying to open.

Paper bags are user friendly.

They also have a “shape”.

You cannot keep fruit or vegetables in a single use paper bag unless you have a twist tie. It seems more often than not that stores run out of twist ties long before they do a roll of one-use plastic bags. This requires you to go on a twist tie hunt.

If you are unsuccessful, you must knot the plastic bag.

Granted you can tip over a small paper bag of four oranges but it is a given a plastic bag with four oranges without a twist tie or some type of clip is like using a sieve to carry water but with even less structure.
Concerns the ban on single-use plastic bags will increase contamination are driven by situational germaphobia.

Some of those squawking the loudest about California banning single use produce bags have no problem with making selections from salad bars. Many have sneeze guards but none are designed to avoid people from handling items with their hands or microbes being shaken off hands using tongs and such to grab everything from alfalfa sprouts to lettuce.

Come to think of it, there are an awful lot of people who handle fruit and produce in a supermarket — items you end up buying.

Plastic — not paper — for that matter will not protect you from all of the walking Typhoid Mary variations out there.

What does protect you to a degree is washing the fruit or vegetables before eating it.

Contrary to the Greek chorus the word “plastic” is not interchangeable with the term “germ free.”

Nothing is 100 percent germ free. And even after you disinfect something unless it is in a high-tech cleanroom, there are still microbes — although in significantly less numbers — on the surfaces you have cleaned. That doesn’t take into consideration that airborne microbes that land almost immediately after a surface has been disinfected.

Of course, all microbes are not harmful. And even the ones that are, it depends if they end up in the wrong place.

Even though the idea that one-use plastic bags can choke a seal or a bird may serve as the lightning rod for many who pushed for the ban, the truth is something much less heart-tugging and more threatening concerns that the ban helps protect is your health and safety plus ultimately your pocketbook.

The answer can be found at “Mt. Stockton” — the towering mountain of garbage that keeps pushing skyward on North Austin Road near the eastern approach to Stockton Metro Airport.

It has a life expectancy of another 20 or so years.

Finding a replacement landfill — as well as ones for all of the other landfills in California — is not an easy task.

In practicality having a landfill in proximity to where one lives ranks right up there with a homeless shelter and oil refinery but worse. That’s because the environmental restrictions almost put it in the category of building another nuclear power plant in California — which is impossible.

Yes, single-use plastic bags are small potatoes.

And, yes, they are on the bottom end of the widely accepted scientific research that plastics — depending upon the type — take a minimum of 20 to 500 years and counting to decompose.

But it takes a lot of little things piled together to make change.

Burn barrels are a prime example.

It was fairly common in smaller towns and even some valley cities for residents to have burn barrels — typically repurposed 50-gallon drums with the lid on one end removed — in the alleys behind homes to burn trash well in the 1960s.

When the effort started in the 1960s to phase them out, the argument against the move was they were small potatoes as well.

But combined with banning the burning trash at city dumps and other measures such as requiring catalytic convertors on cars to reformulated gas, it has allowed air quality to improve in the Central Valley even as the population has exploded.

The switch to recycled paper bags for produce means that they can be mixed with other organic waste such as regular paper, lower-grade cardboard and food waste to produce compost or even general fuel that can power solid waste collection trucks.

Plastics are not organic.

And while they do break down eventually with 20 years being the quickest for single-use bags, it still takes up space in landfills.

A simple change of our habits makes a big difference.

Would we do that on our own?

Highly unlikely.

Does eliminating plastic bags suddenly make the food we eat less healthy?

Not according to widely accepted research of paper versus plastic.

Does it make more sense from a green standpoint?

The answer is yes and yes.

The ban checks a lot of boxes among sound environmental practices.

But it also checks another green box: It will cost less Egg man money in the long-haul.

When combined with other measures, it will stretch the life of existing landfills and assure only the most stubborn items that can’t be recycled will end up buried in future landfills that will be significantly more expensive beyond just the ravages of inflation to get up and running.

And much of what landfills opened in the future will cost will be from the need to ship garbage by longer distance whether by truck or rail.

The banning of single-use plastic bags is just one piece of many in the puzzle needed to be completed to slow down environmental damage and save money as the years unfold.