My Turn: Look who's being Orwellian

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mihael Blikshteyn and Hildegard Sellner's Oct. 8 My Turn "The recyclable plastic bag is a myth," provided one piece of hilarity and one vitally important standard when it comes to recycling in Juneau.

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First, Blikshteyn and Sellner's effort to smear those who don't see the evil in plastic bags as Orwellian is hilarious. Let us examine how this is funny.

Their first paragraph implies that as Juneau citizens are now finished with the fluoride fight, attention needs to be turned to the next issue, which the authors helpfully identify as plastic bags. What will happen now, and indeed has been happening for the past few months, is the vilification of plastic. Pseudoscience will be trumpeted in hysterical articles to enrage the masses on how the use of plastic bags infects our food supply, leaches chemicals into our bodies, reduces brain function, results in the growth of extra limbs and increases the certainty of death beyond 100 percent for those who use them.

The authors, and others like them, have used similar arguments to mobilize the proletariat to win the fight for mandatory seat-belt usage, to ban cigarette use on private property and other "for-the-public-good" laws. Once the fight is over, one more action that used to be legal is no longer, and thus a new enemy needs to be created,

In other words, Blikshteyn and Sellner want to be at perpetual war (echoing Big Brother's strategy in George Orwell's novel "1984") to distract the populace from the eroding state of their freedoms.

The authors, not individuals who are against a ban on plastic bags, are the ones encouraging use of Big Brother tactics and this is double-plus ungood. But funny.

It's possible their error was unintentional. But perhaps the two thought that naming another as Orwellian would inoculate them from the same charge.

Blikshteyn and Sellner set feasibility the recycling standard for Juneau. They report that as plastic is recycled, its purity degrades and that it is cheaper to make plastic from virgin stock than from recycled product. In other words, the quality of recycled plastic and the cost of new production are such that it is not feasible to recycle the old stuff.

So let Juneau apply this standard to recycling in general.

If Blikshteyn and Sellner can use Wikipedia as one of their primary sources, then I feel free to use an irreverent television show as one of mine. The comic magicians Penn and Teller host a cable television show, and in one episode they examined recycling and confirmed Blikshteyn and Sellner's contention that plastic recycling is not feasible. But they also report that recycling other materials is not feasible for essentially the same reasons.

In addition to the costs associated with the actual recycling of collected material, programs need to figure in the costs of collection, enforcement and transportation. All told, as researched by Daniel Benjamin, professor of economics at Clemson University and senior fellow for the Property and Environment Research Center, the resources used to recycle most materials are greater than the resources used to produce virgin product (www.perc.org/pdf/ps28.pdf).

As seen from Blikshteyn and Sellner's plastic bag standard, Juneau residents need not recycle anything, with the possible exception of aluminum cans, as the costs of the program in this hard-to-access town make recycling unfeasible.

Did the two not think of extrapolating their feasibility standard on plastic and applying it to other, often recycled materials? If they had, they probably would not have created this argument against plastic.

I recycle, I reduce and I reuse. I reuse plastic shopping bags to carry my lunch to work and to pick up after my dogs on their walks. I try to avoid new bags from stores. And every two to three weeks, I swing into the dump and deposit my cardboard, paper, glass, plastic and aluminum into the appropriate containers on my way home from work. Doing so means I only have a single container to put out on garbage day.

I base my recycling decisions on personal economic situations and my preferences. I don't appreciate Big Brother telling me to change my behavior for a nonexistent public good.

• Graham Storey is a Juneau resident. He has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Whitman College and a master's degree in public policy with an environmental policy focus from the University of Chicago.



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