Plastic bags - scourge of the Bay

July 31, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND


I shouldn't make this public, but I currently am in possession of some contraband. Right here at work. In my desk. Middle drawer, right hand side.

I'm risking it all by admitting this, but my life is an open book, so word is going to leak out anyway. Maybe I'll get off light for being honest.

For there in my desk drawer rests - a plastic grocery bag.

To the degree that I am ever surprised by any whim a Maryland governmental body might succumb to, I was shocked to learn that the City of Annapolis is considering a "toughest-in-the-nation plastic shopping bag ban," according to the Associated Press.


I can think of a lot of things I would like to outlaw, and I am thinking specifically of Nancy Grace, but grocery bags never would have crossed my mind.

This will sure change the conversational dynamic in the check-out line. "Good afternoon sir, paper or imprisonment?"

The legislation, as proposed, would fine retailers $500 for failing to provide "recyclable paper bags or reusable bags."

You can easily make the argument that plastic bags themselves are reusable, so I don't know how that would work. Maybe you have to sign an affidavit swearing that you will take your lunch to work in the bag the next day.

You had to figure this would happen. After they got smoking banned from everywhere, there would be a deep, psychological need for government to go about banning something else. Politics abhors a regulatory vacuum.

But grocery bags?

And what of the ones already in circulation? I suppose it could be like guns, where you can turn your weapon into police in exchange for a coupon good for a free cheeseburger at Wendy's.

I hope common sense prevails and they reach some kind of compromise - like you can still get a plastic bag after a three-day waiting period. Because you just know that if plastic grocery bags are outlawed, only outlaws will have plastic grocery bags.

And if nonrotting containers are an issue, what of tin cans? What's the Campbell's Soup Co. supposed to do, sell its Chicken Noodle in a shoebox?

Environmentalists say that a ban on plastic bags is crucial - and I bet you didn't see this coming - for the "health of the Chesapeake Bay."

Oh. I see. Like what are these rogue plastic bags doing, hunting down crabs? I mean, we've all despaired at the stray plastic bag blowing in the wind and uglying up the scenery, but for every one of them I've seen a dozen paper, fast-food bags that have been tossed in the ditch.

Maybe we should just ban all bags. You get a quarter-ouncer with cheese and you have to eat it out of the hand of the gum-popping chick in the drive through. She feeds you fries like you feed carrots to a horse.

Naturally, there is a backlash to this proposed bag ban, and it comes from an organization called - I am not kidding - the "Progressive Bag Alliance." ("Head for da hills, Maude, the bags is organizin' and they're voting Republican!")

According to the PBA's mission statement, the group is "Dedicated to ensuring that plastic bags are ..." oh, forget their mission statement, there is more interesting stuff here. Did you know, for example, that since plastic bags are lighter than paper it takes less fuel to transport them from one location to another? Something you just don't stop to think about, I suppose.

The alliance also has a list of suggested reuses for your plastic grocery bags, such as "keeping clothing dry on boating trips" and "protecting water and gas lines in the winter."

Plastic bags. Is there anything they can't do? If George Washington had had plastic bags when he crossed the Delaware, everybody would have enjoyed dry socks. If they had any.

And what is a treatise on the glory of plastic sacks without a helpful section on effective grocery-bag-packing strategies? "Shoppers and baggers can work together to properly pack bags and reduce usage," they say.

So if you have ever wanted to develop a meaningful, personal relationship with the bagboy, here is your chance.

Frankly, I can't say these arguments swayed me much. I went in with a decidedly pro-bag bias, and came out - well, let's just say I would like to group together everyone who has an opinion on the issue and put plastic grocery bags over their domes.

Now that's what I would call a productive re-use.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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