Of the many new laws making their debut today the one that will be felt by nearly everyone is the ban on single use plastic bags within the city of Los Angeles, making all of L.A. County a bag-free zone.
Unless that bag contains this newspaper.
Or the sandwich bag your dealer sells your stash in.
At Ralphs or the corner bodega, you can fill your cart to the brim with boxes of plastic bags; giant black yard bags with pull strings and tiny thin trash can liners, but when you get to the checkout stand you can’t get a plastic bag for your plastic bags.
Nuclear weapons and AR-15s are still legal but plastic bags are verboten.
It’s not the end of the world.
The wife and I live on the edge of Los Angeles and do most of our shopping in stores long subjected to the county ban on bags. I grumbled and adjusted. So will you.
The question is should we be forced by law to do so?
Not that long ago “One for the road” was a way of life in America and every year we lost north of 50,000 on our roads, many to boozed-up drivers.
Along came MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and attitudes changed.
“One for the road” wasn’t so cool anymore. The three-martini lunch became the zero-martini lunch. Laws were toughened and enforcement tightened. We still lose thousands to drunk drivers, but not nearly as many as before.
Not that long ago “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” was a common cry. We smoked ourselves to death.
For 40 years Americans have been warned and lectured about the dangers of smoking. We’ve banned smoking practically everywhere and jacked up the price per pack to astronomical levels through punitive taxes, making smokers in California almost as rare as Republicans.
Unless you smoke pot. Somehow pot is still cool.
Like cigarettes used to be.
We are burying ourselves in our own filth and I’d like to believe we’re smarter than that. We’re also burying freedom under an avalanche of legislation and I’d like to believe we love liberty too much to surrender it out of laziness.
Recycling was once patriotic.
During World War II every man, woman and child happily recycled tin cans, paper, nylon, anything necessary to help beat Hitler and Tojo.
It took 80 tons of scrap metal to make one tank. What we couldn’t get through recycling we saved though rationing; butter, fat, gas, oil, grease, sugar were all proscribed by law. Willingly and not so willingly we changed the way we lived for a cause greater than ourselves.
We need to do the same today.
The hundreds of tons of plastics dumped into the ocean each year is a genuine threat to our health and the health of the planet. This isn’t eco-propaganda, although there’s plenty of that floating around as well. The reality of plastics poisoning the ocean is as real as a tax audit.
But first let’s clear up some nonsense.
We’ve all heard about the trash island in the Pacific the size of Texas? Not true. It’s much worse. There are actually five of them around the globe and they’re more like trash soup than trash islands. They’re called “gyres,” enormous spirals of partially decomposed shopping bags, milk containers, wrappers and the million other things we use once and toss away without a second thought.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We can voluntarily change our behavior because it makes sense, the way we once recycled to beat Hitler, or we can do nothing and wait until the government mandates change by law.
While L.A.’s plastic bag ban reeks of political feel-goodism, the kind of eco-friendly legislation that’s catnip to politicians, it’s at least something.
If we want to keep government from reaching into yet another aspect of our lives, and I do, we need to once again make recycling a patriotic duty. We need to prosecute the slobs who toss trash out their car windows under existing laws.
But let’s not kid ourselves; doing nothing is not an option. The oceans are becoming giant vats of toxic PCBs. Now is the time for all good Earthlings to come to the aid of their planet.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sunday and Wednesday. He can be reached at: Doug@KABC.com.