Friday, August 15, 2014

Plastic Bag Ban? What Plastic Bag Ban?

Born-again environmentalist D-Wayne Carriedaway, that District 4 Dallas city councilman who desperately wants to become mayor and hopes to achieve his goal through sheer bombast, came up with this idea that has become very popular among green cities: banning the use of plastic shopping bags.

Dallas wants you to believe it’s a "green city" and, in a moment of kindness, I’m willing to admit the city is lima bean green, at best. I also firmly believe a majority of Dallas citizens, when it is made clear to them all the harmful environmental effects as well as the detrimental financial effects resulting from the use of plastic bags, would support an all-out ban of plastic bags by a significant majority. Bans like those in already in effect in Austin; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Wasington, D.C.; Portland, Ore., and others. However, those who donate big bucks to the election coffers of those running for the Dallas City Council oppose an all-out ban by an even more significant majority. So, of course, Carriedaway’s Crusade had as much a chance of success as his hopes for higher office.

What he wound up settling for was an ordinance that allows store customers to continue to take their goods home in plastic bags, but they must pay 25 cents for each bag they use. (I still haven’t heard how this is going to be enforced at the self-checkout lanes, but that’s another story.) I guess Carriedaway figured (1) merchants would get weary of maintaining a separate product category for plastic bags, complete with their own scannable bar codes and/or (2) customers would quickly tire of shelling out 25 cents for a plastic bag and start using reusable shopping bags. Either one of those options would mean the end of plastic bags as we know them in Dallas. I don’t think either of those possible outcomes is realistic. Why?

Last night, in CFO Jeanne Chipperfield’s slide presentation during council member Adam Medrano’s budget town hall meeting, Ms. Chipperfield displayed a slide titled "Clean, Healthy Environment." The second bullet on that slide was: "Initiate enforcement of City’s new single-use bag ordinance." During the Q&A session following her presentation, one audience member asked Ms. Chipperfield what that bullet meant. Ms. Chipperfield replied "So (that’s the word she uses to begin the answer to every question directed her way) then went on to explain, from the city’s point of view, the purpose of the audience without ever once saying the "b" word, which led me to believe that word has been (pardon me for this) banned for use by city officials. She told the audience that the city nets 5 cents for every bag sold, money she suggested, would be used to pay for enforcing the ordinance. So, great news, folks, this ordinance pays for itself.

But the fact that the ordinance pays for itself was not what I was thinking when Ms. Chipperfield forecast the city would collect some $2 million in the 10 months of the fiscal year during which the ordinance will be law. What I was thinking was that amounts to 40 million new plastic bags introduced to the Dallas environment, 40 million additional plastic bags that will clog our water systems, strangle endangered wildlife and bringing a quicker demise to our landfill.

And Dallas has the gall to want to call itself a "green city."

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