Plastic bags: Persuasion is better than force

Note: I issued this press release last Friday in response to a proposal to ban plastic bags in Bloomington.

Encouraging people to bring reusable bags to the grocery store to prevent pollution caused by disposable plastic grocery bags is a worthwhile cause that I personally support. (It should be noted, though, that the reusable bags can carry harmful bacteria. Wash your bags!)

However, that should be done through persuasion and social pressure, not by government force. We should allow people the freedom of choice in how to take their items home, rather than having the government make that choice for us though banning the bags outright (as the Democrats on the city council are considering) or adding a tax on the consumer for using the bag. At a time when many are struggling, adding a tax for a social justice cause is harmful and uncivil.

It should not be the role of city government to micromanage the private decisions of people as they purchase their groceries. A preferable solution would be for the Commission on Sustainability to make educational resources available on the benefits of reusable bags, and to encourage Bloomington citizens to make a choice that is more environmentally friendly. Perhaps the city council could pass a resolution encouraging the use of reusable bags, and the mayor could make regular public statements encouraging it and pointing people to the city’s resources on the matter. Perhaps charitable organizations could offer free bags to consumers, in hopes they will use those bags instead of the plastic bags.

Using government to force others to adopt your own personal lifestyle choices, however, is unacceptable in a free society. The city council should not only categorically reject any proposed legislation to ban plastic bags, it should not even vote on such legislation. Unless an action directly harms another person or his property, we should always seek to persuade others as to why our opinions are right instead of forcing others to live as we want them to live.

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