Banning them provides no benefit other than to let activists lord their preferences over others.
Why do politicians want to take away our plastic bags and straws? This moral panic is intensifying even as evidence mounts that banning plastic is both a waste of money and harmful to the environment. If you want to protect dolphins and sea turtles, you should take special care to place your plastic in the trash, not the recycling bin. And if you’re worried about climate change, you’ll cherish those gossamer grocery bags once you learn the facts about plastic.
During the 1970s, environmentalists wanted to restrict the use of plastic because it was made from petroleum. When the “energy crisis” abated, they denounced plastic for not being biodegradable in landfills. They blamed it for littering the landscape, clogging sewer drains and global warming. Plastic from our “throwaway society” was killing vast numbers of sea creatures, according to a 2017 BBC documentary series. The series prompted Queen Elizabeth II to ban plastic straws and bottles from the royal estates, and it galvanized so many other leaders that greens celebrate what they call the “Blue Planet Effect,” named for the series.
More than 100 countries now restrict single-use plastic bags, and Pope Francis has called for global regulation of plastic. The European Parliament has voted to ban single-use plastic straws, plates and cutlery across the Continent next year. In the U.S., hundreds of municipalities and eight states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont—have outlawed or restricted single-use plastic bags. Greens in California are pushing a referendum to require all plastic packaging and single-use foodware in the state to be recyclable, and the European Union has unveiled a similar plan.
John Tierney is a contributing editor of City Journal. This piece was adapted from the Winter 2020 Issue of City Journal.
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