Gaius Publius: Which Would Be Harder to Ban, Single-Use Plastic or Money-Bought Government?

Jerri-Lynn here: In this short insightful post, Gaius discusses how the underlying obstacle to solving the problem of plastic emanates from the industry that produces these poisons– and a political system driven by money rather than attuned to public needs.

The problem isn’t limited to plastic either:

There are half a dozen industries like these, lucrative destroyers, insulated by money-bought government from populist slings and arrows.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at the DownWithTyranny

Credit: Chris Jordan

From the Dept. of What We’re Up Against:

Texas Supreme Court Rules Cities Cannot Ban Plastic Bags

The Texas Supreme Court struck down the city of Laredo’s plastic bag ban—a decision that will likely overturn similar bans in about a dozen other cities, including Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas.

The court ruled Friday that only the state has the authority to regulate solid waste disposal in Texas. In the 19-page opinion, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote that the Texas Constitution prohibits city ordinances from conflicting with state law.

“Both sides of the debate … assert public-policy arguments raising economic, environmental and uniformity concerns,” Hecht said. “We must take statutes as they are written, and the one before us is written quite clearly. Its limitation on local control encompasses the ordinance.”

Twenty Texas state senators and representatives plus the state’s attorney general backed the Laredo Merchants Association in their bid to overturn the ban.

The case was correctly decided, by the way. The problem is a state law that prevents cities from “going rogue” and allows conservative and pro-corporate policies to be enacted at the state level. This means only state legislators have to be bribed — one-stop shopping — while cities are forced by law to follow.

More Plastic Than Fish

In a related piece EcoWatch notes, “More than 8.3 billion metric tonsof new plastics have been generated, distributed and discarded as of 2017. Much of that material ends up in our oceans. Every year humans send an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic out to sea. If plastic consumption continues at this rate, we are on pace to fill oceans with more plastic than there are fish by 2050.”

More plastic than fish in the ocean is a lot of plastic. Most or all of this plastic is single-use. You touch it for five minutes — drink your slurpee, drain your sugery coke, carry your groceries to the kitchen — then throw it away. Five minutes on the finger tips, a thousand years on the hips of an already over-burdened planet.

There’s so much plastic in the ocean that mussels are now so riddled with it they should not be eaten:

Shellfish are the natural filter systems of our seas, mechanisms of purity. So, to discover in a report released on World Oceans Day that mussels bought from UK supermarkets were infested with microplastic seems like a final irony in the terrible story of the plasticisation of the sea. According to the study by the University of Hull and Brunel University London, 70 particles of microplastic were found in every 100 grams of mussels.

We feed plastic to the ocean, and it feeds plastic to us. Our modern life, “consumed with that which it was nourished by,” eaten by what we eat.

Cassandra Spoken Here

But this is a political piece, from the Dept. of What We’re Up Against. The one-use plastics industry has to die or it will kill us. Yet consider what’s in the way. If you thought “Texas Republicans” you’d be wrong. We’re up against Money.

The plastics industry is the third largest in the U.S. It’s expected to be worth over $650 billion worldwide by 2020. How do you make an industry this big shrivel and die without a revolution that first destroying money’s dominance of government?

And the single-use plastics industry is just a start. The fossil fuel industry has to die soon as well — collapse and rot in the ground in less than a generation. How does that happen, with billionaire-dominated government in the way?

There are half a dozen industries like these, lucrative destroyers, insulated by money-bought government from populist slings and arrows. Maybe I should have sent this from the Dept. of Cassandra Spoken Here.


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  1. Karen

    It’s an uphill battle, but the best strategy–perhaps the only strategy–is for people to raise their self-awareness and stop buying the stuff that’s packaged in plastic. Recycling is a false panacea.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    As earlier articles here have highlighted, an important driver behind plastics use is that most plastics arise as essentially a by-product of the fossil fuel industry – mostly the precursers are made from ‘wet gas’ which is the stuff that used to be flared off from oil and gas rigs, but is now used for plastic and other products. The more fossil fuels we produce, the cheaper plastic gets.

    So the divestment campaign against fossil fuels is not just about climate change, it includes plastics too.

    1. larry

      Thanks for this, PK. I knew that plastics were petroleum by-products but had no idea about wet gas.

    2. jefemt

      Upon hours of reflection driving miles and miles working for the oil and gas industry, it occurs to me that the marvelous, portable energy dense substance that is oil has allowed ‘us’ to populate the world and live in a delightfully convenient way , well beyond the earth’s pre-oil capacity.

      Think overshoot, and the nasty equal and positive reaction coming due…

      The blood on my hands

  3. everydayjoe

    What is the alternative to plastic?New technologies like edible plastic, plastic from corn that is 100% degradeable are being worked on but it is decades away for commerical use. takes ions to decay, if at all, as well. River sand mining is also a issue in developing countries so glass industry is in decline globally. Paper kills trees. There was a time when humans consumed less, in toto. Maybe we should look back to days when we ate what we cooked the same day, purchased less, drove less etc…

    1. Fiery Hunt

      Joe’s got the only answer that works…

      We have to stop consuming the way we consume.

      But with the internet/gig con being the “new” economic thing…well, we’re screwed.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Yes, it’s the ubiquitous interconnection of everything in life that we have to be aware of , and not just one product category.

        Nothing less than a new way of living for the whole world…fewer airplane trips, Nancy’s ‘Just Say No,’ instead of non-natural rubber preventive devices (plastic things here…single use, no less), slower life pace (have time to do nothing…hopefully supported by the government), resist getting the new smartphone every few months, buy and darn cotton socks, etc.

        Question everything we do.

        Shave hair completely? You would require fewer resources taking care of it. Read the label of many ‘green’ shampoo bottles…the resources and energy required to make and ship it. Less water used, too. For those who color, dye, perm, set or spray, by shaving all of it, you would be saving enough more.

        Do people need to polish their nails? It seems like a complete waste there.

        These are just a few examples.

        1. Malcolm MacLeod, MD

          MLTPB: You have the right idea. I’m eighty four years old, and life was more fun
          in the old days. I lived in Germany in the fifties, and it was heaven. However, even
          Disney would not be able to sell this concept.

      2. Olga

        Back in the good ol’ socialist days, we all carried re-usable bags (mostly made from strong fabric). We consumed much less (although certainly enough to live well – at least, in retrospect). We recycled paper and glass.
        We also felt oh-so-deprived vis-a-vis the western “abundance.” So people revolted and demanded that they, too, be allowed to live under the tyranny of over-consumption (the tyranny of prosperity, as I call it now). They wanted to be equal with the west!
        Visiting Greece for the first time eons ago, I remember being so impressed with the liberal dispensing of flimsy plastic bags. It seemed like the height of “wealth” to me at the time. Worse – of liberation! That is what western propaganda does to a person!
        Consume… go shopping…! As long as we define progress by material wealth and convenience, nothing will change.

      3. Lord Koos

        It is pretty much impossible to avoid single-use plastic packaging unless you are living paleo-style. Even developing countries use tons of the stuff. A big problem is overpopulation, but that horse left the barn a long time ago. However, it’s likely that there will be far less humans burdening the planet a hundred years from now. Unfortunately, by that time there will be far less species of all kinds as well.

  4. Eclair

    Re: those ubiquitous plastic straws.

    My spouse and I go out to eat. He orders lemonade, I order a local beer on tap. The server brings him a straw with his drink; my beer is delivered strawless.

    Question: why do we need a straw to drink lemonade, iced tea and soda but are expected to slurp beer directly from the glass?

    1. DJG

      Eclair: Think of the straw as a symbol of the infantilization of the U.S. population. It is also, in a sense, a way of “delivering” food without having to touch or taste it, by passing the lips and often the tongue–another kind of infantilization. And people wonder why U.S. obesity rates can’t be controlled. A straw is the closest thing to having sugar solution directly injected into a blood vessel.

      1. Eclair

        Ah ha, DJG! Beer-in-a-glass (vs Beer-in-a-bottle) and whiskey on the rocks drinkers are subtly categorized as ‘grown-ups.’ Or, one actually wants to taste the beer/spirits vs just mainlining the sugar in soda or fake lemonade (no lemons have been harmed in the making of this drink.)

        1. Wukchumni

          Also, don’t discount the idea that half of the population might be wearing lipstick, and straws are a much better way to keep your cosmetics intact, versus placing lips upon a glass.

    2. yoghurt

      From my observation, you get a straw with drinks that have ice. Conversely, no ice means no straw.

      1. Eclair

        Good point, yoghurt. Straws keep our lips from touching ice cubes and getting frostbite.

        What about Jack Daniels on ice?

        1. John Zelnicker

          July 13, 2018 at 10:30 am

          One never drinks whiskey with a straw.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      I read somewhere, and I hope it is true, that whereas in Japan the chopsticks are one-use disposable; in Korea the chopsticks are personal re-usables carried by the owners from place to place to place.

      Because if that is true, then the re-usable perma-chopstick concept can be applied to straws. Straws of thick heavy plastic for multiple re-uses. Or straws of thin bamboo . . . thin bamboo segments with the septa cut off or drilled out, for perma-possession and use after use after use.

      1. Anonymized

        Actually, in Korea the chopsticks are metal and are provided by the restaurant (and washed there). You pick them out of a box on your table along with a long spoon. This is the standard cutlery in Korea.

        The other great thing about Korean restaurants is that they provide small metal cups that you can use to get free water from a filter. The cups are also washed and then left in a UV light oven to kill bacteria.

        However, the very best thing about Korean eating establishments is what they call “service”, which is is essentially free food. If you’ve been there for a while the cook will make something for your table and the waiter will bring it to you and say “service”. It could be anything like Korean pancakes, an omelette, some dried squid – basically the restaurants treat you like a guest instead of a customer. Sometimes if it’s slow the chef/owner will come and drink with the guests.

        Oh wait, I forgot about the side dishes which are supposed to be endless refills (though in the US and Canada it doesn’t seem to be the case with the cheaper restaurants).

  5. divadab

    It seems to me the simplest way for Texas cities to get around the corrupt legislature in the pay of the petrochemical cartel is to implement a local sales tax on plastic bags. Say $5 per bag. Proceeds to be used for building a big sculpture of a one-finger salute.

    1. pretzelattack

      i’m not sure they could do that either. the first case i read of in which this law was used involved denton, tx, which tried to ban fracking. the court ruled it could not. local people, trying to save local lives, nope, can’t do that.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Anti-waste cities/towns/etc. in Texas and maybe elsewhere could keep passing local anti-plastic-bag laws anyway, as rub-their-face-in-it educational opportunities. Let more and more people see how the ALEC State oppresses and persecutes cities/towns/counties/etc. Build a rising tide of rage and hatred with each time that a pro-conservation local law is ALECed yet again by the Corporate ALEC State.

      Eventually, enough people would be deeply enhatredized enough that choke-the-Koch/ Smash the ALEC officeseekers ( even Texans) can begin running for state office on the platform of destroying the Corporate ALEC State one law-of-liberation at a time. Perhaps one could call it the Corporate Koch State for more clarity.

      Once all the Koch State ” you can’t do that” laws against municipalites are repealed, various municipalities can begin passing all sorts of ban-the-plastic, choke-the-Koch types of laws.

  6. JTMcPhee

    I can buy multiple use “grocery bags” at my local Publix chain. They are a couple of bucks, some with virtue-signal or “seasonal” labeling on them. They are made of some kind of woven fiber product, which when I burned a bit as an experiment, gave off the kind of fumes, and melted, like you expect from “plastic.” These things degrade pretty quickly, so after a month or two the handles rot off and the sack falls apart.

    Yes, I have cotton canvas bags to use. But as pointed out above, I and millions who shop at Publix and Sweetbay and Fred Meyer and Jewel are happily or grudgingly buying Sh!t products wrapped in multiple layers of wet-gas plastics. How many of us can afford and have the discipline to do otherwise? How many of us have “delightful luxurious rainforest shower heads” in our remodeled baths with the subway tile, but still restrict ourselves to Navy showers (quick wetting down, water-off scrubbing, rinse just enough to get the soap off, no languorous sex in the running potable water? And how many, when tasked about what might be termed “selfish, reckless overconsumption, snap back with “Well, I can AFFORD it, none of your dang business”?

    Yeah, Big Money is one massive enemy, but of course the Big Money gang is made up of people applying their best intellects and skills in sometimes small, sometimes huge incremental ways, to personally be able to “afford stuff” while “advancing and progressing” toward the world as Pixar depicted it in that uplifting propaganda movie titled “Wall-E?”

    “Externalities be damned! Full speed ahead!”

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I have bought some of these sorts of bags too. Only the ones I get are so far lasting a year or two or three. And for greater strength and durability one could always put one inside another and sew them together around the top. One could even sew on extra support fabric around the handle-to-bag junction spots to counter any weakness there.

      The word “virtue signalling” should I believe apply to totally costless displays of virtue posturing. Buying a re-usable bag is not expensive, but it is not free either. So it is a minimal bit of virtue practicing, and maybe even visible virtue horn-tooting as well.

      The cure for ” Well, I can AFFORD it” is to price resource use high enough to where ” Uh Oh . . . I can’t AFFORD it anymore.” The way to encourage conservation is to punish use, and the way to punish use is with punitive pricing. By punitive use-taxes and sales-taxes if necessary.

    1. Michah

      Not everywhere, in LA, at ROSS – Pay for Less (pun intended), you get free plastic bags. Just the other day I witnessed a lady request that each item be put in a separate bag, then all the bags in another big plastic bag.

      1. jefemt

        What Outward Bound and NOLS call a “Teachable Moment”. We all have an obligation to pleasantly engage and have a conversation with they/the other. And remember, we are they, we are the other.

    2. Tim

      They have banned “single use” bags. The bags you pay for are significantly more robust and last an extremely long time.

      People have just learned to use a shopping cart to shuttle items to their cars, or bring their own bags. The policy change has made a substantial difference.

  7. ChristopherJ

    Governments everywhere allow this to continue. It would not be hard to tell every manufacturer that they can only use say 10% of new plastic in their production and packaging.

    Instant result, huge demand for recycled plastic, making it have some value, which it does not have now.

    Seems all a bit futile though. Saw Guy McPherson from his homestead in Belize being interviewed:

    A retired US biologist, hw basically said that we are in the midst of ‘abrupt’ climate change and there will a time, as late as September 2019 when temperatures will ensure the air conditioner of the north pole no longer has any ice. As a result, the earth become susceptible to a one degree or more increase in a rapid space of time. Species cannot adapt quickly enough and we lose the ability to grow grains, rice, wheat and corn at scale.

    Guy gives us less than 2 years and suspects that the last human will open their last can of peaches in 10 years.

    Go back to nature? There will be no nature left. Plants, insects, multi cell animals all gone, the earth heavily radioactive once the nuclear power plants all meltdown…

    I look out of my window in Cairns this morning and hear all the birds waking up and I find it all hard to believe, but I won’t be shocked when the power and water stop flowing and the food trucks no longer deliver. Then, I reckon my family and friends probably have less than a month.

    Meanwhile, we carry on, thinking their are solutions just out of our control and grasp.

    Thanks GP and NC

  8. ewmayer

    Speaking only for myself, I really value the small-footprint-when-folded, light weight and waterproofness of plastic bags – always carry at least one decent-sized handle bag tucked into a small pocket of my messenger bag when out and about, it has come in very handy on innumerable occasions. Use em til they wear out then recycle. My locale has banned most plastic bags but I have a large stash in storage. Just used one a few ours ago to haul 20 lbs of old books and papers to recycling, restowed in pocket afterward and was on my way. Can’t do that with paper ones.

    But yes, the problem is that responsible plastic bag users appear to be a tiny minority.

    1. Wukchumni

      I have quite the stash of plastic bags from before the ban, and they’re the cat’s meow in terms of the litter box.

      Eventually we’ll run out them, and have to come up with another plan when doody calls.

  9. Steve

    Population!!! It is the single biggest and important driver in our ecological collapse. People must adjust reproduction with the goal of 2 billion or less. People, as a group, currently lack the capacity to make the choices to solve these problems.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Have laws permitting the favorable tax treatment of the first child. Have zero such laws for the second child. Have escalating tax penalties for children number three and beyond. Just a suggestion. . .

  10. Wukchumni

    The most effective thing i’ve seen in my life in terms of going from something being commonplace, and then a few decades later, every last one of the proponents are considered outcasts, and they can only light up outside in generally a tight sequestered area.

    Why not do the same with plastics as we did with cigarettes?

    Make the usage so onerous that hardly anybody dares.

  11. drumlin woodchuckles

    There are two battlefields here, the field of political combat and the field of economic combat. How might the low-money majority do battle on the field of political combat? Sanders and others appear to be trying to design and build systems of just-enough-money-raising on the fly based around concepts of big or huge repeat micro-donor bases . . . making millions of micro-donations over and over and over again. What such movements lack in big money they can make up in big numbers and big-commitment-per-member; leading to big-time-investments per low-money member. It worked in AOC’s very little special-case test-bed campaign. If versions of it are seen to work over and over and over again, then a lower class majority movement can use Big Time and Big Numbers of People to counter the upper class minority advantage in Big Money. But the lower class majority will have to accept that this will take just as much decades for them as it took decades for the Evangelicals and pre-Tea people to take over the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement.

    Perhaps if hundreds of thousands of embittered former members of former ACORN were to come back together as ACORN 2.0, taking zero donated money from non-poor non-members and zero money and/or assistance from Democrat Liberals, that would be a sign that chunks of the lower class are ready to grasp the concept of self-staffed self-funded self-advancement at the demographic level, for example. And if they showed a capacity to get serious revenge on the Okeefe-figures who would be sent around to make fake videos, they would be feared and respected, which counts for something in politics.

    The other battlefield is the field of economic combat. Targetted buycotts, boycotts and extermicotts to support the beneficial and destroy the harmful. Or weaken the harmful enough that a growing lower class political movement can take down and destroy bad actors which have been weakened by carefully planned and targeted and viciously applied extermicotts. ( An extermicott is a boycott designed and intended to exterminate the target).

    ” No, Mister Koch. I expect you to die!”

    One way to mobilize some big mobs of people with enough spending money to make a difference by how they target their spending would be for webtivists carefully disguised as Jonestown Clinties to join and infiltrate the Jonestown Clintie blogs and websites. Begin raising the question of the bussiness interest beHIND the Trump. Figure out how to change spending and living patterns to degrade and attrit revenue streams reaching the oil industry, gas industry, Koch industry, ALEC-allied spin-mill industry stock investments, etc. Every dollar is a bullet on the field of economic combat.

    If the millions of Jonestown Clinties are ready to do some virtue practicing and horntooting, as against strictly and only cost-free virtue signalling, then infiltrating advice on how to do that into various Jonestown Clintie thoughtstreams might be a way to get millions of Jonestown Clinties doing just that.

    Just imagine . . . 50 million pairs of Pink Pussy hands wrapped around the neck of Big Koch . . . choking its revenue streams to half their current size.

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