Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The price of plastic bags

A few years ago, a blue plastic bag got entangled in the tree outside my bedroom window. I welcomed its presence, at first. I took pictures: bag in winter; bag in spring. I hoped it would scare off the bird that bursts into song at ungodly hours on summer nights. The bird was undaunted. The bag is still there, clinging tenaciously to its branch. Past my initial wonderment, I have reached the point where I would pay someone to climb the tree and pull it off. I find some irony in the fact that whoever let it loose was probably given the bag for free.

In most of the world, plastic bags are one of the reliably free things in life. Most American shoppers depend on them. Dog owners carry them to scoop the occasional poop. In New York City some people still walk into Delis on rainy afternoons and ask for a couple to cover their shoes. But plastic bags exact a toll on all of us. They generate tons of waste, which for all practical purposes does not degrade. They get caught in telephone wires. They clog drains. In poor countries, cows eat the bags, bloat and die.

There is an effective way to rid ourselves of the plastic blight: put a price on it. I am happy to see that Washington, successfully following this strategy. Hopefully New York will come next.

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