Monday, June 26, 2017

Caught Between a Quandary and a Dilemma

 This post grows from a conversation I just had with a neighbor.  In many aspects, it is similar to the age-old question, what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Cities across the nation are taking steps to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam coolers from their beaches.  Many are also legislating their ban in places like supermarkets and restaurants.  There is a big push from environmental groups for this, as I wrote about after my visit to WDW, but who among us stops to consider the real causes for their environmental impacts, or the probable result of their removal from the commercial market?

First let’s talk about how these products came to be.  As our knowledge of the potential uses of petroleum distillates (and chemistry) improved we found ways to use the oil based compounds to make synthetic materials that are far cheaper and more effective than the natural fiber or metal products they have come to replace.  Because of their superior properties, lower manufacturing costs, and availability they have come to dominate the market.  For example, take a look at your trash can, or recycling container, is it still that heavy metal can so popular 50 years ago?  I doubt it.

We, the supposedly developed countries, have embraced plastics as the be all, end all, product of the 20th century.  Plastic is found everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.  There are almost no products left that are either not made from plastic, or packaged in plastic/Styrofoam/Polystyrene.  It fills our landfills, recycling centers, and the sides of our highways.  If mankind has been someplace there is plastic left there as a reminder of our presence.  This includes the Moon, Mars, and now beyond our solar system.

Is it plastic's fault it has become an environmental nightmare, or is it the fact we leave this garbage laying around?  In this sense plastic is like a gun.  We have been yelling about guns now for as long as I remember, and the people who want to ban them think that will solve the problem.  The people who want to keep them answer they are the same as any other tool and banning them will not eliminate their abuse.  Personally, I agree with the later position, for the real problem is not the gun, or plastic, but how we as human beings accept responsibility for their safe use.

The simple thing to do is pass a law banning something.  The hardest thing to do is effectively enforce it.  We ban litter, yet our roadsides and beaches are routinely littered by those nefarious self-absorbed individuals who act irresponsibly.  We ban speeding, yet less than 1% of speeders are ever ticketed, in fact if you stay within a certain range over the speed limit almost every cop or trooper will turn a blind eye on your infraction.  We ban bullying… how’s that working out?  I think you get my point.

But let’s say we ban plastic bags, Styrofoam coolers, bottles and whatever from the beaches what will happen?  How many additional beach environmental compliance enforcement officers will we have to hire?  How many Styrofoam coolers and plastic bag businesses will shut their doors?  What will happen to their employees as they are left to fend for themselves?  How many restaurants will no longer have Styrofoam plates and boxes for their businesses?  How much will the cost of business for retailers go up as they have to stock paper bags or reusable bags?  How much of the cost will be borne by the poorest of our economy, the people who barely scrap by today, or those who are below the poverty level?  I wonder did the cities who have implemented this ban consider these questions?  I doubt it.

     Here is something to consider.  Remember the Standing Rock Tribes protest over the Dakota Access Pipe Line routing?  The outrage over the probable impacts to the environment? The celebrities who joined in, the outrage over the government approvals?  Who remembers the clean up efforts the state had to implement when the protesters left?  It is easy to be outraged!  It is harder to be responsible for your own mess.

At the end of the day, will these laws make the beaches cleaner or not?  If we choose not to deal effectively with the root cause, lack of individual responsibility, I don’t think they will.

Just food for thought!

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