Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nickels and dimed

It would appear that Mr. McGuire was wrong.

He was that fellow, in The Graduate, who wanted to offer young Benjamin Braddock a single word of advice, claiming it was the wave of the future. That word was plastics.

It's a word we all have heard with regulatrity, for decades now, every time we go to the grocery store. You know. "Paper or plastic?" Seattle's Mayor Nickels wants us to start paying for the privilege to ask for plastic bags. He wants to get rid of those plastic foam containers most carry-out food comes in, too, and the plastic forks and knives and duck sauce packets.

The mayor's proposal, which is before city council now, and is expected to pass without difficulty, would ban foam containers at restaurants and grocery stores by 2010 and would impose a surcharge for the disposable plastic bags used at groceries, convenience stores and drug stores.

The mayor says it's intent is to better manage Seattle's impact upon the environment. Maybe he's right. I have seen studies that claim more than a billion single-use plastic bags go out the door of stores across the country every day.

And it is estimated that it will take one thousand years for a plastic bag to weather away. [Evil me; when I heard that, I couldn't help but picture some poor soul, sitting in a landfill, watching a bag full of who knows what, and putting a mark on a calendar for each day that passes.]

So, once the proposal becomes law, unless you take your own non-disposable bags to the market, you will pay twenty cents for each bag filled. Foam containers will be banned January 1, 2009, with restaurants still allowed to use plastic containers and utensils. Plastics will be verboten July 1, 2010, with carry-out in compostable containers only. A dime more for a dinner box; a nickel for cups.

Grocery-store and restaurant associations oppose the bag fee, of course, saying that now is not the time to add to consumer grocery bills. They are looking at their bottom line, too.

We all do, don't we? And we will get used to lugging our own bags to the grocery store, and buying carry-out a little less, even though we may complaint about it at first. Remember when the oil companies switched over to self-service pumps?

It's part of what it means to be human; we adapt. Even Mr. McGuire is probably handing out different advice these days. I wonder what his one word might be.