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Burb's Eye View: The rights and the wrongs of plastic bags

September 04, 2013|By Bryan Mahoney

I get the default reaction to Burbank's soon-to-be-proposed ban on plastic shopping bags. I understand the warnings of "nanny state" and "Big Brother." This is the right reaction in a democracy where government should fear the people and not the other way around.

What I don't understand is the vehement adherence to this belief regardless of facts, especially on the subject of plastic grocery bags and the multi-angle method around which local groups are trying to reduce plastics' environmental impact.

Last week's community meeting on banning plastic bags was organized by Burbank Green Alliance. Since it was their party, they set the guest list: Speakers from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Bay, an environmental representative from Los Angeles, which has its own ban about to go in effect, and Burbank's recycle center.

Conspicuously absent on the panel: Anyone to present an opposing view. To her credit, Jessica Aldridge, executive director of Burbank Green Alliance, did an excellent job of making sure every audience question was asked — including breaking her own rule of reading only our hand-written questions to give one resident time to speak.

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Her argument, I'm paraphrasing, was "What are they going to take away next?"

Other questions contained that same rhetorical flavor — I heard it echoed 10 years ago in New York when smoking was banned in bars. Ultimately, we were better off for it, as we were better off when asbestos and lead paint were banned from buildings.

With smoking bans, it's nice to walk through a restaurant without someone blowing smoke in my face.

That doesn't happen literally, of course. However, "freedom," taken literally, means someone could do that if they wanted. But you have freedom until it impinges on the rights of someone else, and just as we are free to live smoke-face free, we should have the freedom to enjoy the L.A. River without it being lined with old, discarded bags that eventually end up in the ocean.

Aesthetics aside, they are hazardous to animals, pose a suffocation hazard for children and cost a lot of money. Ferris Kawar of the Burbank Recycle Center said between $18 and $30 of annual grocery bills is a cost that's passed to consumers for plastic bag production.

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