Short memories and an urge to dictate have brought Rhode Island a plastic bag ban.
Honestly, I expected the COVID experience to put an end to the high-school-civics-project of banning single-use plastic bags, but stores’ bag dispensers now sit empty, and Rhode Islanders have another reason to lean toward shopping in Massachusetts or online.
In Rhode Island, our legislators have a chronic difficulty understanding consequences and the availability of alternatives. A state the size of ours has relatively inconsequential influence on the amount of plastic in the oceans and far from total control of the plastic litter in our state, and there are no suitable alternatives to plastic bags, with the possible exception of paper bags, which we were told we mustn’t use when I was a kid. If there were suitable alternatives, people would likely use them without being forced.
One would have thought that concerns about repeat-use bags for things like groceries during COVID would have at least given our mandarins a smidgen of understanding that they cannot foresee every consequence and micromanage life. Bags for carrying raw food home from the store, for instance, are not conducive to multiple uses, unless we’re to add shopping bag laundry to our list of nuisance activities.
That is not to suggest, however, that the state should exempt some products from a ban while leaving it in place for other products. Everything has consequences, and minute regulations ripple throughout the economy, ultimately harming somebody, usually the most vulnerable. Even on the environmental front, laundering shopping bags has an environmental cost, as does the packaging and shipping of goods ordered online.
Rather than focus on crumbling infrastructure and failing schools, the people we’ve elected and whom we supply with copious funds choose to put on their Master of the Universe hats and tell other people how to conduct their lives. Two possibilities arise: either the state will try increasingly intricate regulations to minimize the consequences of its moral preening or people will adjust their behavior without bothering to make a stink. For one thing, the less convenient shopping becomes, the more people will simply shop online, which will destroy jobs and (more subtly) human interactions in the state.
Perhaps, like most of the people in and around state government, you don’t work in retail, so your job won’t immediately be threatened. Just wait, though. There is surely something you do every day that bothers somebody, and in Rhode Island, government officials are in the business of helping them come for you.
Featured image by Justin Katz using Dall-E 3.