In a short but sweet letter the writer opines, “This recent plastic bag ban is taking away our freedom. We should have the right to choose between plastic, paper or own our bags at our local stores. What’s next? Will gasoline be banned at gas stations?”
Clearly, the city council has crossed the line here and in so doing violated the 30th Amendment to the US Constitution, the right to be given plastic bags for free at a grocery store when purchasing food or related items.
That there is no such amendment to the constitution suggests that there is no such freedom and no right to choose between “plastic, paper or (our own) bags” at our local stores just as we don’t have the right to choose between throwing a plastic bag in the garbage or on the street.
So where does that leave us? We have some choices.
There is no plastic bag ban in Davis. What we have is an ordinance that prevents stores from giving out free single use carry out bags. Semantics? No, there is a big difference.
There is nothing preventing people from bringing in their own previously-used plastic bags. There is actually nothing preventing people from ordering their own single-use bags and bringing them to the store.
People do not have the right to be given a bag and communities, just as they have the right to ban litter, can prohibit the distribution of bags by merchants. This has been tested in the courts and has passed their scrutiny.
This is not an issue of rights, there is no right to be given a specific type of bag any more than there is a right to a whole host of other things not covered specifically in the Constitution.
It seems like a silly thing to whine about.
From my own experience, I have learned a lot. First, I learned that I wasted a large number of plastic bags previously. Every time I would go to the grocery store, I would get at least one plastic bag. Now, people tell you that they reuse their bags, but half the time, by the time those flimsy bags got home there were tears and holes in them.
Since July 1, I have not bought reusable bags. I have used a grand total of eight paper bags in nearly two and a half months. Eight. Eighty cents. Could I have done something else with that eighty cents? Perhaps. But that’s not really the point. The bigger point is actually how cheap and easy it is to be more environmentally responsible.
By eliminating stores simply handing you “free” bags, we have to make choices that are conscious about what we need. Ten cents doesn’t make a huge different tagged on to a $50 purchase, but it is just enough to make you have to ponder – okay, is it necessary to have a bag?
The only times I have ended up using bags are when I head to my office and have purchased a number of small items that would be difficult to carry through the locked door and up the stairs.
When I go home from the store, it is easy to put my items from the cart into my trunk – much like one would do at Costco – and into my fridge in the garage. Why would I need to waste bags?
Back to the issue of freedom – it seems like a strange definition of freedom that we have the right somehow to be given something for free. That’s not freedom, that is a privilege, and one that can be taken away.
We do not have the freedom to pollute our planet. That is a misappropriated concept. The Constitution merely prohibits the government from preventing our freedom of speech, religion and assembly – fundamental rights under the Constitution.
As the letter above illustrates, those freedoms remain intact. The Constitution also prevents the state from interfering in our private lives and creates procedures under which our freedoms can be taken away.
We allow the state and local governments, however, to regulate things like litter, pollution, noise, even nuisance. These things are not rights recognized by our government. It is not freedom, but rather a privilege.
Are these the highest of priorities? Some say no. Those tend to be people who oppose the regulations. However, I believe the generation of waste is a priority and we as a community have the capacity to move toward zero waste. Plastic bags are a nuisance to the environment, but they are nuisance that it is fairly easy to do without.
—David M. Greenwald reporting