I live in Austin, Texas and I love it. It's the live music capital of the world, has an amazing food culture and is nearly always warm and sunny. It's a young city and a vibrant one, growing with a constant influx of folks from across the country including a lot of Californians.
However, Austin is also something that most of Texas is not - a city dominated by liberals. We are a blue dot within the sea of red that is The Lone Star State, in part because of the massive University of Texas and the professors, scholars and administration that comes along with it and in part because it was, at one point in its history, a bit of a hippy enclave, an escape from the more mainstream cities like Dallas and Houston.
All in all, as a conservative in a blue city I'm not all that bothered by it. Some of things they have enacted, like preserving "green belts" that stripe the city, I don't mind. I'm a fan of nature you can enjoy just outside your door, and in Austin that's a very easy thing to come by. It's also good for your property value, something that should make everyone happy regardless of political affiliation.
Beginning on March 1st the Austin City Council strayed into the realm of liberal stupidity and it has made a real and measurable impact on my daily life.
As the primary shopper in the family, I go to the grocery store several times a week. We have some of the best grocery stores in the country here and are the home base of Whole Foods, whose downtown flagship store is an amazing amusement park for foodies like me. When I get to the front of the line I'm used to hearing them ask "paper or plastic?" I'm sure each of you are used to the same thing. Well now, in their infinite wisdom, the Austin city council has decided that "single use" plastic and paper bags are evil, a scourge upon the Earth that must be vanquished with the fire of a thousand regulations that only a government can supply.
Instead we are now forced to purchase "recycled" bags, generally made from something like old tires, plastic bottles or whatever else the green movement is pushing at that particular moment. These bags run you at least a couple bucks, maybe more. I'm now forced to carry these around with me in the store shoved into my already full shopping cart so that when I get to the front of the line, I can do my part for the future of the environment by using something that is not considered "single use."
As with just about all things the Left decides are for the betterment of us all, there is so much more to this ban. First of all there is the added cost. Each and every Austinite must fork over a few bucks per bag just to bring home your groceries. This may not seem like a big deal, but think about big families that may fill more than a single shopping cart every time they go to their local grocery store. That's an added expense for families already dealing with higher gas prices, less money in their paychecks and oh yeah, those groceries you just bought, those are getting more expensive too.
There is also the fact that now you don't have the value of those "single use" bags elsewhere within your home. We have a million uses for those bags at our house. We use them to line the wastebaskets in each of our bathrooms. As parents of a toddler, my wife and I use plastic grocery bags for all sorts of mess containment whether at home or on the road. I even use them to separate each of the million twinkle light strands we have for celebrating Christmas at Casa de Jackson. These are not "single use" bags to me or many other Austinites.
We use the "single use" paper bags to collect the bottles and cans that we are forced to recycle by the city. Additionally, who can make proper fried chicken without a paper bag?
Businesses also have a burden to bear here. Each retailer now has to not only get rid of the large inventory they had of plastic and paper bags, but also come up with a plan for "Earth-friendly" bags that customers must now use. Of course with that comes the mixing of brands that has to drive retailers crazy.
I was at HEB, the most amazing Texas-based grocery chain, this weekend and saw people strolling the aisles with reusable bags from Whole Foods and Target in their carts. The marketing and sales departments at HEB, can't be happy about that. I wouldn't want a customer hunting in produce for something to get frustrated, see their neighboring shopper with a Whole Foods bag and think, "Never mind. Instead of finding the produce guy to point me towards the purple carrots, I'll just pick them up at Whole Foods." Thanks lady!
In other cities that have embraced the evils of plastic bags, businesses have seen some startling side effects. In Seattle, businesses have seen an uptick in shoplifting as a result of the bag ban costing one grocery store thousands of dollars, a financial burden they didn't have to deal with beforehand. As you can imagine, it's easier to conceal items in your reusable bag than it would be an empty grocery cart. One survey found that more than 21-percent of businesses in Seattle reported a marked increase in shoplifting after the plastic bag ban went into effect.
There is also a health concern the environmental lobby refuses to address with these reusable bags. When you load your bag full of produce and meats there can be something that falls off or leaks that you may not notice when you empty your bag. Sometimes you'll get home and realize that after being jostled around in the back of your car, the chicken has sprung a leak and dripped some into your bag. In a good old-fashioned plastic bag, that's no big deal. Chunk it and move on. With a reusable bag even if you think you've soaked it up with a paper towel there is bound to be some of those germs left over. After San Francisco enacted their bag ban in 2007, their hospitals saw a rise in the amount of E. coli cases and even an increase in the deaths from food borne illnesses.
Amazing that leftist environmental policies have unintended consequences? Shocking, I know.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not leaving my beloved Austin over this bag ban, but I may just begin collecting these bags from friends and family who live elsewhere and handing them out in front of retailers across Austin, as a public service.