Plastics and Politics

I went to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. I parked, got out of my car, and opened my trunk to collect my reusable bags. A woman who was just getting out of her car said, “Ugh! Bags! What a wonderful state we live in!” She was clearly being sarcastic. For those that don’t live here, Connecticut implemented a 10-cent-per-plastic-bag tax in August, with a total ban on single-use plastic bags set for a couple years from now.

Today I was at the grocery store again. I had my reusable bags with me and did all of my shopping. When standing in the checkout line, the guy in front of me started ranting to the cashier about how awful the bag tax is and how no one would have voted for Governor Lamont if we had only known what he would do as governor (as a side note, I did know what Lamont would do as governor and I voted for him). Then, he turned to me and continued the same rant, saying that no one likes the bag tax, it’s ridiculous, etc. I avoided eye contact, hoping he would stop talking to me, but he didn’t until he had paid and left the line.

Before I go on, I just want to say that the cashiers and clerks throughout Connecticut have my deepest sympathy. The last thing they want or need is customers ranting at them about politics. It must make for an annoying and awkward work environment.

I was completely taken aback by both of these interactions. Part of that, I’m sure, is because I’ve been going to the grocery store for decades and I’ve never had any kind of conversation with a stranger at the store before a couple of weeks ago. Not that these were exactly conversations, they were both completely one sided, but they were unexpected and unwelcome. The other part that had me taken aback was that I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. They were speaking English and using recognizable words, syntax, and grammar, but I couldn’t even begin to understand them.

It’s bizarre to be interacting with another human and have them seem so completely other. But in the time since these two interactions, I have tried, and failed, to see their point of view. How on Earth could anyone be against the plastic bag tax? Pollution is bad. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement. Plastic bags are a major source of pollution. Therefore, limiting the number of plastic bags is good. It’s pretty straightforward.

But maybe it isn’t about the bags themselves. Maybe it’s about the tax. But that seems a strange position since it’s a completely voluntary tax. No one has to pay it if they don’t want to. I would think anti-tax people would like to see more voluntary taxes.

It can’t be that there’s no good alternative to plastic. Many stores have stopped using plastic bags completely and have seamlessly replaced them with paper bags. And reusable bags have been around for ages.

Maybe it just comes down to people being uncomfortable with change. I can almost see this. But even that’s hard since plastic bags haven’t been around for very long. There’s no proud American tradition of using plastic bags. I remember before there were plastic bags in every store. And I also remember the transition period where people had a choice of paper or plastic (almost everyone chose paper). It eventually changed over to plastic, not because anyone liked plastic bags, but because it was a little bit cheaper for stores to operate with plastic bags. If it is just being uncomfortable with change, these people would have been just as violently against plastic bags just a little while ago, and I have a hard time believing that is the case.

The only other reason for their anger that I can think of (assuming that it’s unlikely they both used to work for a plastic bag manufacturer and got laid off as a result of the new law), is that the plastic bag tax was implemented by Democrats. This is the most likely reason for the anger and a position I can’t understand at all. I didn’t like the first President Bush, but when his administration tried to fix the hole in the ozone layer with changes to the Clean Air Act and adoption of the Montreal Protocol, I was fully on board. I’m even with Donald and Melania Trump in their efforts to stop kids from vaping. A good idea is a good idea. I can’t imagine getting mad about a good idea just because it was proposed by the other side.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the way the world is now. It makes no difference to most of the electorate whether an idea is good or bad, whether it will be effective or not. All that matters to most people now is who wins. Everyone wants their side to win and the other side to lose. It’s like politics is nothing more than another sport, something we watch for entertainment. It’s sad that people don’t realize that politics shouldn’t be a competition. It’s not like one side can win and the other side lose, anyway. We either all win or we all lose together. Getting rid of single-use plastic bags is a win for everybody. No one should be angry about it. And even if someone is angry about it, it’s not worth accosting me in the grocery store about it.

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