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Checking out plastic

Three times in the past week I was told: “Did you forget your check-out bags?; I looked guilty. Well that’s okay, they said, we’ve hired a team of accountants to re-program our entire operation so as to charge you for, and keep track of, what we used to give you free.” 


Actor Dustin Hoffman, in the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” was admonished by his parents’ friend: “Plastics!” That single word double entendre (humorous double meaning) has been coming back to mind lately, but now as a quadruple entendre. For those too (enviably) young to have seen it, the hilarious and slightly racy — by standards back then — movie was about empty “plastic” society.

 

But the overt meaning of “plastics” was about the growing field of plastics as an excellent business opportunity for the young graduate. The next memorable scene was the young Hoffman sitting on the bottom of the swimming pool in scuba gear, avoiding his parents’ really booorring cocktail party and more irrelevant advice waiting on the deck above. 


That 1967, self-indulgent, shallow, plastic society has been devolving somewhat further ever since; while investing itself ever more in meaningless and sometimes unintentionally evil minutia, this time through the recently passed, confusingly worded Proposition 67 that bans free plastic bags at checkout counters. 


Pursuing this plastic irrationality, consider an emptied half-gallon orange juice container that a consumer — for fun let’s call her Mrs. Robinson (Hoffman’s mature dalliance) — recently purchased. It weighs 106 grams, and the plastic bag the grocer put two of those in weighs 5.4 grams. Just one of those orange juice containers weighs as much as 20 of the now illegal plastic bags. Put another way, the flimsy bag for two OJ jugs adds only 2.6 percent more plastic and makes for ease of carrying and better temperature insulation while on clogged freeways. Similar comparisons, about cookie containers, cake containers, soap, ketchup, milk, chocolate, whiskey, shoplifting prevention packaging and other plastic containers, would be redundant. 


If voters choose to devolve much further, we’ll soon be hauling hand sewn cowhide containers into the grocery, to be filled from bulk containers. 


Keeping with that thought, consider that excessive use of antibiotics is a very serious issue, resulting in proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Salmonella and other digestive disorder pathogens can survive to another day in even once-used plastic or paper containers. How many pathogens will be carried into stores in used bags and then unwittingly carried back home by other consumers? How much more antibiotic resistance will those more often treated pathogens achieve? Mrs. Robinson’s strange utopia could crumble. 


What will be the impact on the environment of manufacturing a lot more legally mandated paper bags? One paper bag weighs the same as 10 plastic bags. It will take 10 times as many trucks to haul paper bags to the supermarket as it took to haul the plastic ones. Is this really a net gain on an environmental objective? And paper ones can’t be made from California’s 200 million dead trees — wrong kind of wood. How much more fuel will the added freight take? 


And then, how much more customers’ time, and how much more baggers’ time will check-out take, with carry-in bags of all kinds of awkward shapes and sizes. The added costs will accrue to both the supermarket and the consumer — equally! That’s how economics works. “The Graduate’s” Mrs. Robinson — who had way too much free time and money for her own good — might not mind, but others probably will. 


While economic and environmental mandates are usually sold as simple solutions to ill perceived and non-existent problems, they often have multiple negative consequences. 


Hard evidence proves that most California consumers have very little free time, as adjudged by how many drivers feel forced to dangerously tailgate any other driver foolish enough to drop their speed below 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. Speed limits are partly set to encourage environmentally friendly driving. Oh well, this is written because political hypocrisy is my favorite subject. 


Anyway, the final quadruple entendre includes: Plastic politicians, plastic society, plastics banned, and the plasticity of Californians willing to re-form their lives in other states. I know people who aren’t just threatening to leave California, they’re already gone. And they’re investing in businesses and creating jobs elsewhere too, not because of silly plastic bag regulations but because of California’s propensity to regulate absolutely everything, whether needed or not, all in the name of the environment. 


So now, “checkout” California might also be a double entendre; that is if laughing at dumb politics isn’t also soon regulated by the PC crowd.



Clay Daulton is a longtime Madera County cattleman and political observer who occasionally writes for The Madera Tribune.