Sen. Kim Elton's proposal to impose a 15 cent per bag tax on Alaskans using plastic shopping bags (April 18 Juneau Empire) underscores why many Alaskans voted to reduce the session to 90 days from the current 120: Too much time in the session leads to idiocy.
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Plastic bags started to become the choice of consumers in the late 1970s. This happened for many reasons: Plastic bags have handles, so the skateboarder pictured with the Empire's article can more easily carry a plastic bag while skating than he can a paper one; plastic bags cost less money to ship to retailers, saving shoppers money; and plastic bags are quicker to fill than paper ones, which speeds customers through check stands.
But I presume Elton is targeting plastic bags on the canard that plastic is more damaging to the environment than paper. It is unfortunate our elected leaders know so little about the subjects on which they wish to legislate. According to the Grassroots Recycling Network (www.grrn.org), the manufacture of plastic bags "produced considerably less air pollution, water-borne wastes and industrial solid-waste than the manufacture of paper. Because plastic bags are lighter, they also produce less post-consumer solid waste, taking up less space in landfills." In fact, the Reusable Bag organization (reusablebags.com) reports that paper bags generate 70 percent more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
This is not to say plastic bags are the clear winners over paper; they are not. When paper bags end up as pollution, they break down at quicker rates than plastic bags, which means there is less damage to the environment and animals due to littered paper bags. Paper bags are also recycled at a higher rate than plastic.
But plastic bags are recycled with greater efficiency than paper. In fact, it takes just 17 British Thermal Units (a measure of energy) to recycle a plastic bag versus 1,444 BTUs to recycle a paper bag, according to reusablebags.com.
So shopping bags in general, be they paper or plastic, have problems. Before Elton attempts to legislate to bring about behavior he deems worthy, he should more fully examine the issues involved. Or perhaps he can realize that the legislative session will soon be shortened and concentrate his energy on truly needed legislation such as school and transportation funding.
Graham G. Storey
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