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The poor arent being required to protect the environment
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

It's been nine years since I started using reusable bags.

I switched to them for three reasons: I was getting tired of dealing with the flimsy bags that were difficult at best to carry. They were gathering like dust bunnies in a cabinet given I rarely reused them. And at the time I was getting "paid" a nickel by a number of stores each time I brought a reusable bag.

You'll notice I didn't say I switched to reusable bags to protect the environment. I've driven a hybrid for 11 years, I followed "if it's yellow let it mellow" long before the drought to save water, and for more than two decades I've been a stickler for separating anything the city recycles from garbage.

I don't buy the argument that reusable bags are unhealthy in terms of fresh food and germs or they aren't resource efficient. I'm still using one Save Mart bag I bought seven years ago. They look as if they have been to hell and back but I haven't gotten ill and I've carried a lot of fresh produce in them. I've easily reused bags 600 plus times before a hand hold breaks or they develop a tear or a hole. That's easily 600 times more than I've used a thin plastic bag.

Given that you'd think I'd be jumping up for joy about Proposition 67 on the Nov. 8 ballot. I'm not.

Prop. 67 is essentially a referendum on legislation Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in 2014 creating a statewide ban on single use plastic bags and paper bags. It came about after the grocery industry - perplexed at trying to comply with more than 150 local ordinances in California - threw their support behind the adoption of s statewide standard.

The fine folks who manufacture single use bags pushed back, circulated a petition, and got enough signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The state law - that is suspended for now - requires supermarkets and large drug stores to stop providing such bags unless the consumer pays a dime apiece. Smaller grocery stores, convenience stores, and liquor stores would have 18 months to comply.

Vote "yes" on Prop. 67 and the law goes into effect Nov. 9. Vote "no" and it doesn't go into effect although the 150 local ordinances would stay intact including San Francisco's that started it all back into 2007.

The California Legislative Analyst's Office reports in any given year Californians carry 14 billion one-time use plastic bags out of stores. Those bags have a collective value of $24 million.

So what's my beef?

I don't disagree that the bags are extremely problematic when it comes to decomposing once entombed in a landfill. Researchers estimate it could take between 500 and 1,000 years to decompose. This is based on science given plastic bags have been around for only 50 or so years. Some argue that plastic bags based on volume represent an extremely small portion of solid waste is buried.

Where the problem comes is the exception carved out for almost four out of every 10 Californians.

The law passed by the Legislature and signed by Brown exempts anyone with a state benefit card from having to pay a dime for each single use bag they take from a store.

The rationale is simple. They can't afford a dime to pay for a single use bag nor can they afford to buy a re-useable bag.

It is the same flawed logic that exempts anyone who uses food stamps from state sales taxes on soda - another high profile target of the government to correct what they see as the self-destructive behavior of people.

The working theory is the unwashed masses have to be led by the nose to do the right thing because we're too dumb to figure things out. And much like cattle, they then milk taxpayers but instead of gathering milk the government gathers tax dollars.

If your official line is that the employment of single use bags is so destructive to the environment that the government must act then there should be no exceptions since the justification for making the rule in the first place is to supposedly to save the planet.

Soda taxes - and now plastic bags - penalize only those that aren't benefitting from a wealth transfer arranged by the state. If you're single and making $15,400 and qualify for the minimum food stamp support you don't have to pay a dime for a plastic bag nor do you have to employ a reusable bag. But if you are single and make $15,500 and don't qualify for food stamps you pay a dime a bag or use a reusable bag.

I know. I know. They're poor and you have to draw the line somewhere. But if plastic bags are mass killing birds and have the shelf life of Twinkies why doesn't the government issue reusable bags to every holder of a state benefit card? And when they lose or forget the bags they can pay a dime a bag just like everyone else.

Being poor shouldn't get you off the hook from being responsible.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.