June 24, 2009

Bag(gage) on Facebook

Some time ago I wrote a facetious April Fools piece about quitting blogging for the comfortable confines of MySpace where:
it seems that no one cares about my former life as a the criminal mastermind of the conspiracy known as the Town of Nags Head. No one cares about ORV driving or ocean outfalls or (hush yo mouth) beach nourishment!!. Why no one even cares about anything except inviting me to virtual play!!.
I had no idea how prescient that piece would become. I joined Facebook, as I do so many things, to explore the emerging new uses of technology. I had already used the photo social network Flickr. Facebook was an extension of that experience. I have a lot of contacts and stay in touch with people I seldom get to see through this new medium. I have enjoyed my time on Facebook and it competes with my blogging for my attention. It is one reason why there have been so few posts lately.
My blog posts are routed to my Facebook account automatically and show up as notes that my Facebook friends can read and comment on. I have had a few stray comments on my notes but the plastic bag bill piece generated an interesting dialog between several community leaders who participate on Facebook. In fact it received more comment on the social networking site than on the original blog. Here are the comments.
Maxine Rossman at 3:25am June 19
For what it's worth, Laura Leslie would appear to be right on all counts. The morning of the legislative breakfast here in Dare the question "If this is coming out of the NC general assembly, why does it not apply to the entire state?" was asked. The good Senator's reply was that he knew there would not have been enough support for it to be applied to the entire state! And yes, local grumbling and mumbling abounds - but changes little.

Ben Sproul at 8:59pm June 19
Mandatory Recycling for ABC permittees in NC (effective January 2008) fundamentally altered the state's waste stream, keeping hundreds of thousands of tons of glass (and plastic, and aluminum) out of our landfills every year. This odd plastic bag bill seems to be part of a larger plan to green-up the reputation of NC nationally. My guess is that... Read More, by next year, Basnight will be able to point to this "experiment", call it a success, and use that perceived success to leverage this and other green initiatives toward wider acceptance and a fast-track the green movement statewide. The fact that the environment will not be noticeably better-off does not surprise me. These macro issues demand incremental steps. And ones that do not noticeably effect the state budget negatively. Like the Recycling requirement, these new regulations are un-funded mandates, with no allocations for enforcement or implementation.
Ben Sproul
Ben Sproul at 9:07pm June 19
These big box retailers will pick up the tab for the more expensive bags by passing the new expense on to our tourists (and us) at the cash register in the same way that restaurants paid out of pocket for recycling while local governments reaped the benefits of lower tipping fees (to the tune of $65/ton) when the collective waste stream dropped. That new expense is now built into your beer/lunch. Restaurants - and now a few retailers - feel these actions the most, because our visitors do not bring more money. Consumers spent the same dollars, only now there are fewer of them left when you get to the business owner's bottom line.

I, for one, am glad to do my part.
Glad for the smoking ban in restaurants, too (Jan 2010) !! Now if we could just enforce the fact that tossing your cigarette butts on the beach (or my parking lot) is a crime... called littering!


Maxine Rossman at 4:27am June 20
Strongly agree with the sentiment of both of your posts. You are aware, I assume, that because so few restaurants and bars were open this past winter that the County did not even recycle the glass that was collected?! The ultimate slap for businesses after all of the additional expense associated with the mandated action in the current economic climate!

Ben Sproul at 8:48pm June 20
The county ends up collecting glass only in unincorporated areas of the county. They bought a glass crusher with help from the Visitors Bureau Grant. Fact is, the value of used glass dropped through the floor when the mandate glutted the market, so it has very little value. Due to our remote location, trucking it out of here makes selling it ... Read Moreimpossible. We hope to use the crushed product here in the county. Meanwhile, here in KDH, restaurants like mine mostly pay Outer Banks hauling to pick up our recycling... and they haul it to VA to sort it. They tell me they would lose money if all my recycling was glass (most of it is) only our aluminum makes it economically feasible. Again, I am happy to to it for the greater good. No govt action is perfect. At least ours is trying...

Bob Muller at 3:50am June 21
While I am sympathetic to the cause of environmental improvement/protection I don't accept your premise that any effort by government, no matter how ineffective or ill conceived is a good one. The bag ban has little real enviromentl impact. It may create a market for recycled paper bags that would be good but no one has demonstrated that the... Read More science supports that. There is much the state could do to improve the envrionment - hog farms, the state auto fleet - storm water etc. But those actions take real political will. Imposing a local bag ban takes none, all it does is increase cynicism about motives and means.
If government wants to do something about the environment or even litter, then do something meaningful even it is hard. The time for enviromental symbols is long gone. The time for effective action may soon be as well.

Ben Sproul at 10:22pm June 21
Point of clarification. My premise is not that "any effort" is a "good one". Far from it. The point I was trying to make was that moving the political will of a large enough group of legislators to actually pursue real reform requires incremental measures. I whole heartedly agree that the bag ban will have negligible effects on our local environment. What it may serve to accomplish, however, is to begin to erode the resistance to all things environmental at the state level. That erosion is what will pave the way for more ambitious efforts. Education of the public, is the real challenge, for our legislators can do little for us unless we are insisting on it loudly and publicly.

Here is one of my current crusades...
Stop Oil and Natural Gas Exploration off of North Carolina http://www.surfrider.org/outerbanks/

Sign the petition. This is how we push back on the new MMS 5-Year Oil Lease plan. By talking to the Sec. of the Interior Ken Salazar

Kathy Mccullough-Testa at 4:49am June 22
Ben, you are right...it is so hard for folks to "do" the big things and smaller steps increase acceptance of them. But, you should be in Duck since the Town does pay for the commercial recycling pick-up for our restaurants.
The comments were reposted with the permission of those involved.

Additional bag bill notes. The bill passed the Senate and should soon be signed by Govenor Purdue. Nice piece in the Va. Pilot on the bill with quotes from some business owners and managers.

PS. Not sure I will be reposting comments all the time. I may try to drive all the traffic to the blog site for comments so I don't have to.


At 7:14 AM, Blogger Ronnie Roach said...

I found an interesting article about banning plastic bags. I wanted to see the cost difference between the bags but found some additional environmental facts...

Plastic bags cost about a penny each, paper costs about a nickel and compostable bags can run as high as 10 cents each. The California Grocers Association, which lobbied against the ban, doubts this new industry can produce enough of the compostable bags quickly. The bags also must be segregated from regular plastic, making recycling efforts more difficult.

Paper bags, meanwhile, generate 70% more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is because four times as much energy is required to produce paper bags and 85 times as much energy is needed to recycle them. Paper takes up nine times as much space in landfills and doesn't break down there at a substantially faster rate than plastic does.

So what's the answer? The real culprit is the slob who litters or refuses to recycle either one — or communities that don't provide the means for him to do so. Our throwaway society is to blame as well.

The best answer to the paper or plastic question is neither. Each individual can do more to help the environment by reusing whatever bags groceries distribute or buying a canvas sack to carry goods.

Public education campaigns about littering and recycling can help more than ineffective bans on products that are used every day by billions of people worldwide. It needn't take 1,000 years to alter anti-social behavior.

The article really raised some interesting points. I wonder if our elected officials looked into the facts or just decided it would be a good idea since everyone hates those bags. I wasn't there but I doubt anyone looked at the "big picture".

So guess what - your grocery bill will be a little higher thanks to this quick decision. The grocery stores will surely pass those costs on to the consumer. I am glad this experiment is not in my back yard.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Russ said...

I also find it interesting how business owners applaud government dictating what they can and cannot do. I remember one of those posters, when the heavy hand of the law came down, rallying the troops for their defense against Big Brother. But its OK for Big Brother to tell stores and consumers what kind of bags to use and collect a tax in the process, or tell a bar owner he can't choose about cigarette smoking on his premises. I know SOME restaurant owners like the smoking ban because it avoids their having to choose and make a competitive choice.

I guess it always comes down to whose ox is being gored where the Government is concerned.


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