Plastic bag bans are about a lot more than just banning plastic bags; A few years ago, Adam Sternbergh wrote a great article for New York Magazine, The Fight Over Plastic Bags Is About a Lot More Than How to Get Groceries Home, discussing bans on bans in Arizona:
Others see the skirmish as part of a larger war: The unending fight to combat government tyranny and protect the American Way.
Now the war has come to Michigan, where the state government has passed a law that bans bans on bags, prohibiting local governments from banning, regulating or imposing fees on the use of plastic bags and other containers. More specifically, it is:
A bill to preempt local ordinances regulating the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers...
which include not just plastic bags, but any:
(a) "Auxiliary container" means a bag, cup, bottle, or other packaging, whether reusable or single-use, that meets both of the following requirements:
(i) Is made of cloth, paper, plastic, cardboard, corrugated material, aluminum, glass, postconsumer recycled material, or
similar material or substrates, including coated, laminated, or multilayer substrates.
(ii) Is designed for transporting, consuming, or protecting merchandise, food, or beverages from or at a food service or retail facility.
So here we have the State of Michigan, which borders on four of the five Great Lakes, which probably has shoreline (3288 miles) than any other state than Alaska, effectively banning local governments from doing anything to stop the use of disposable plastics in bags, cups, bottles or anything, all of which break down into little bits that can get into the lakes.
This is not just silly, taking away local control, but it is fundamentally stupid for a state that depends a great deal on tourism to pristine beaches. According to Lake Scientist,
Visit the majority of beaches on the Great Lakes and you’ll find plastic debris, and not just on public beaches in large cities. Even Lake Superior has visible plastic debris on remote and otherwise pristine beaches and shorelines. This plastic is a potential hazard to the health of animals and their ecosystems, and its unsightliness damages the tourism industry that so many people enjoy and depend on for their livelihoods.
But hey, the restaurant industry wanted this. In their press release they note:
Currently, there are a number of local units of government across the state that have taken action to implement additional taxes and fees on businesses that not only use plastic bags, and auxiliary containers such as Styrofoam cups and cardboard boxes.
“With many of our members owning and operating locations across the state, preventing a patchwork approach of additional regulations is imperative to avoid added complexities as it related to day-to-day business operations” said Robert O’Meara, Vice President of Government Affairs at [The Michigan Restaurant Association] MRA.
The Washington Post and local papers are concentrating on the bag ban, but the implications of the law are far bigger than that. Styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, you name it; takeout joints can do it right from the beachfront takeout joint and there is nothing the local communities can do about it.
It is also interesting that the International Joint Commission, set up under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, covers water pollution:
In the Boundary Waters Treaty, Canada and the United States agreed that neither country will pollute boundary waters, or waters that flow across the boundary, to an extent that would cause injury to health or property in the other country. When asked by governments, the IJC investigates, monitors and recommends actions regarding the quality of water in lakes and rivers along the Canada-United States border.
The IJC just released recommendations regarding microplastics:
It is critical to properly manage plastic materials so they do not enter the environment. Prevention of plastic debris in the Great Lakes could be accomplished through a combination of approaches and tools. The IJC recommends that the Parties develop a binational plan to prevent microplastics entering the Great Lakes.
Yet Michigan, perhaps the most important state in America when it comes to protecting the Great Lakes, has decided to make it impossible for anyone to do anything to prevent plastic debris from entering the lakes. They are not only stepping on the rights of local authorities, they are possibly snubbing international law. But hey, that’s the American Way.