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By Diana Diamond

Plastic vegie bag ban: Pragmatic? -- or simply politically correct?

Uploaded: Jan 12, 2020

Last June, the Palo Alto City Council, in a 6-0 vote, went along with a suggestion from the Girl Scouts to ban all plastic straws, which they did. A week later with the Scouts cheering them on, the council decided to ban disposable single-use plastic bags in grocery stores – those that are used to carry home vegetables and meat. The ban extends to plastic utensils and other single-use items. Plastic bags at farmers’ markets are now banned. More draconian measures are on their way this year.

I wonder if any of our council members ever go shopping for food. Produce sections in grocery stores have for years been providing vegie bags to hold things like string beans and Brussels sprouts, in part because they had introduced mock storms (complete with thunder rumbling) to gently keep all the produce fresh – and wet.

Yesterday I went to the Midtown Safeway, aware that this new plastic bag ban was in effect since Jan. 1. They store still had a couple of rolls of plastic vegie bags that were available. So I put my sprayed beet greens in one, my damp Brussels sprouts in another, my sprinkled broccoli in a third, and my fresh moist carrots in the fourth. And, oh yes, my dripping lettuce in the fifth. No paper or compostable bags were available – nothing else to hold this wet produce.

I walked to the plastic bag aisle looking for compostable bags (none available) or reusable ones (a single box of small sandwich bags for $3.99.) Beet greens would not fit in them.

I checked on Amazon for compostable bags – the cost ranged from 8 to 15cents per bag (in rolls of 200). Average roll price: $16 or $30, plus tax and some shipping. And once the roll arrives at my front door, what do I do with it – remember to take six to the store every time I shop?

And what about meat bags? Some roasts just drip, especially if the plastic wrap has a rip, and if they are not in separate plastic bags, the juice gets over the cart and onto other foods. The juice also sits on the check-out counter -- doesn’t seem healthy to me. Did the council think about these things?

Several years ago, we all, somewhat dutifully, went along with a city ban restricting single-use plastic shopping bags from all grocery stores because, we were told, the bags were clogging our creeks and waterways. Once in effect, officials declared the ban has achieved a victory – the creeks had hardly any of those plastic bags that we once used to carry home our groceries. (We’ve been bringing our own recyclable bags.)

Last summer, we were told this new vegie and meat plastic bag ban was enacted because they are choking our creeks and waterways. Again? I tried to find the data but little factual information was on the city’s web site.

Why do we have this creek-clogging problem, if we really do? I’ve been told it’s due to the homeless who throw things into water, but it’s too easy to blame “the homeless.”

Getting rid of plastic bags is a noble concept, but what Palo Alto does to rid the earth of plastic vegetable bags and straws will have little impact on the earth’s global warming problem “It’s a symbol of doing good,” one friend told me. “Plastic is bad and if we can get rid of it, so can other cities.” Will Palo Alto really set a national example?

To me, all this fuss about plastic seems more like a disposal problem than a plastic problem. That’s where our efforts should go. City, tell us what you want us to do with our vegie bags, and tell the grocery stores what they should do to prevent wet vegetables leaking into my recyclable shopping bag.

Actually, the bigger plastic problem to me is all those plastic water bottles that are in every city in the area. One friend brings home 48 a week for her family, and dumps the bottles in the trash. Why do we need plastic water bottles, especially since the water here is almost the best in the nation? If we disallow them will we be a model for other cities? Actually, I think it takes a bigger effort than what little Palo Alto does to help with plastic disposal issues.

Let’s think bans through in greater cause/result terms, and be more pragmatic about solving our “plastic problems,” rather than just raising our self-righteous flags and being proud of ourselves. I may be convincing no one, since some residents will still think that they are politically correct and are doing something to prevent more global warming. Are they?