Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Plastic Bags and Other Missed Opportunities

California’s proposed statewide ban on plastic bags did not pass, and this post isn’t meant to be a commentary on the value of such a ban. This is a post about missed opportunities.

Like everything else in the public realm now-a-days, the plastic bag issue became another forum for polarization: tree-hugging pro-choice lefties on one side and gun-toting environment-hating righties on the other.
Missed Opportunity #1: Find the Right Mascot
The Morning Edition (NPR) story reported:

“…At a recent rally outside the (California) state capitol, environmentalists
brought a 25-foot blow-up turtle to make a final push for the bill. The giant
plastic sea creature represented the wildlife (that) activists say is most hurt
by a sea full of discarded bags.”
An inflatable plastic sea turtle? Really? At a rally about reducing plastic usage?

Here was the first missed opportunity: Why not a turtle made from plastic bags? Or if the turtle was in deed made from recycled plastic, why not tout that information?

The sea turtle idea may be a moving symbol to marine environmentalists, but that symbol doesn’t resonate with the “swayable” – those folks who are not entrenched in either political polarity. Their collective fondness for a sea turtle is probably on par with their interest in space debris – that is to say, lukewarm.

How about a hemp Lindsay Lohan doll?

Missed Opportunity #2: It’s the Economy, Stupid
The opposition to the bill weren’t saying things like, “We love plastic bags.”
They’re saying things like what they heard in the commercial funded by the American Chemistry Council.
“California’s in trouble: 2.3 million unemployed, a $19 billion deficit. And
what are some California politicians focused on? Grocery bags.”
In fact, Keith Christman of the American Chemistry Council said he was worried about “losing 1,000 manufacturing jobs in California if plastic bags are outlawed and the cost to taxpayers who will have to buy canvas or paper bags”.

Okay, so it’s not an environmental issue: it’s an economic issue. If it’s true that state like Oregon and Washington would be next in line to ban plastic bags, wouldn’t there be an expanding market for other types of bags? Could those 1,000 workers be re-trained to operate slightly different machinery? Is there a market across the world for “eco-friendly” grocery totes that might be the catalyst to hire more employees beyond those 1,000 workers?

Missed Opportunity #3: Why is it Always “Paper OR Plastic”?
At the heart of today’s polarized politics is the idea of personal choice versus government control. From abortion to gun control; from immunizations to Obama Care. There doesn’t seem to be enough third options for us.

When the check-out clerk asks me if I want paper or plastic (and assuming I have left my eco-friendly hemp grocery tote in the Prius) do I have no other options for removing my purchases from the store? How do shoplifters do it?

Ingenuity, that’s how. (And stealth.)

Sometimes we just have to create our own third options in order to avoid the “either-or” game that is shredding the fabric of intelligent debate that the U.S. (and hey, why not the world?) needs to tackle some pretty big problems.

My advice: buy baggy pants with really big pockets.

No comments:

Post a Comment