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Death And "plastaxes"



The move, which bans outright ultrathin plastic bags and puts a price on all others, is said to save China 37 billion million barrels of oil annually. The plan joins those in a host of nations and municipalities--from San Francisco to Liajiang in southwest China--that have already declared war on the ubiquitous, petroleum-sucking product. Australia's scheme to ban plastic carriers will take effect in January 2009, and a "plasTax" in Irish stores, now six years old, shrank plastic bag consumption by 277 million units in its first three months.

Some Chinese commenters have worried that the fee-for-plastic scheme would be regressive, punishing lower-income consumers who shop more often, or need to use the bags for multiple purposes as inflation ticks up in China. Others fretted that the new three-Mao price was indeed too cheap--unlikely to make a dent in the three billion bags consumed in China every year. One may note, of course, that the one-time purchase of a reusable, non-plastic tote made from cloth or recycled materials would produce long-term savings and environmental health. One hopes such alternatives (and carts, and baskets, and such) are available at low cost to meet demand.

But is the real import aesthetic? In 2002, a state-sponsored report from Australia found that "plastic bags as litter create a visual pollution problem"--kind of like watching a baby seal drown inside a rubber tyre. Kidding! While I think this take is a little too Ricky Fitts for my liking, a quotidian reminder of the cycle of use and waste is only a good thing--especially accompanied by a nip in the wallet.

Here in the states, however, I'm pessimistic that such a national ban on plastic bags would fly. But never fear: the nation that first sent men to the moon and invented Listerine Pocket Packs has come up with some workable, degradable plastic solutions. These ventures should be taken to scale as soon as possible, lest our robust American individualism--the spirit that sent us west--in this case, leaves us lapped by the east.

--Dayo Olopade