Choosing Plastic Bags Like Murdering Puppies?

July 29th, 2008 11:53 AM

For most of us, the choice of plastic bags at the grocery store aisle doesn't equal the moral depravity of canicide. Yet for some reason, a cheeky writer for Time magazine suggested as much in her story on "The Patron Saint of Plastic Bags" (emphasis mine):

In the pantheon of lost causes, defending the plastic grocery bag would seem to be right up there with supporting smoking on planes or the murder of puppies. The ubiquitous thin white bag has moved squarely beyond eyesore into the realm of public nuisance, a symbol of waste and excess and the incremental destruction of nature. But where there's an industry at risk, there's an attorney, and the plastic bag's advocate in chief is Stephen L. Joseph, head of the quixotically titled Save the Plastic Bag campaign.

Yes, that's how Time's Belinda Luscombe began her July 27 article, going further than even NBC's Brian Williams who famously found "paper or plastic?" a "paralyzing" quandary.

Nevermind that many grocery stores do encourage plastic bag recycling or that many consumers find secondary use for plastic bags around the house, particularly dog owners who scoop up after Fido on neighborhood walks.

We find out from Luscombe herself that Joseph is hardly a right-wing opponent of the environmental movement:

[I]n 2003 he sued Kraft Foods to prevent the sale of Oreo cookies to children under the age of 11 in California, on the grounds that they were full of trans fat. While he didn't win the court battle, he clearly won the war; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an anti-trans-fat bill into law on July 25. Earlier, Joseph sued San Francisco's parking department to get the agency to remove graffiti from its signs, and he was an anti-litter activist. Graffiti and litter - including, say, plastic shopping bags - live on, so he's batting about .300.

But that is no matter to Luscombe. Joseph's departure from green orthodoxy puts him at risk of being a pariah from polite society:

However perusasive his arguments, Joseph's task may be Canute-like. In June, China banned shops throughout the country from giving out free plastic bags and banned the production, sale and use of any plastic bags less than one-thousandth of an inch thick. Bhutan banned the bags on the grounds that they interfered with national happiness. Ireland has imposed a hefty 34-cent fee for each bag used. Both Uganda and Zanzibar have banned them, as have 30 villages in Alaska. Scores of countries have imposed or are considering similar measures.

Joseph labors on nevertheless, undaunted by the tide or by what his Marin County neighbors must think. "I've told a lot of people that I'm trying to save the plastic bag," he says. "They look at me with horror." But he says that no, he has not seen a drop-off in dinner-party invitations. "This is not an issue that belongs in the left bucket or the right bucket. It's about truth. And I'm determined to make it register."