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Promoting Public Discussion: Has the sky fallen?

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 5th, 2013

Itís been about three months since Oct. 1 has come and gone, bringing with it the dreaded plastic bag ordinance. Has the sky fallen and the dire warnings about long lines at grocery stores come to pass?

I clocked the additional time taken to ring up four paper bags ó about two seconds. Has the expense of buying reusable bags been an onerous burden?

Letís do the math: We use four bags for our weekly grocery shopping and they have lasted 10 years. At $3 per bag thatís $12. Assume $125 per week for groceries. Over 10 years thatís $65,000, so the extra $12 is an increase of less than 0.02%. But critics say, ďItís a real nuisance if I forget my bags.Ē So put them in the car and leave them there.

How about health risks, since some food scientists found that some reusable bags had e coli bacteria. But Consumer Reports notes that the strains of e coli found were not ones normally causing sickness and one of their scientists notes that ďA person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study.Ē

In emails responding to my email, neither the Center for Disease Control, the California Department of Health nor the San Luis Obispo County Health Department are aware of any case of food illness traceable to contamination from reusable bags, though this would be hard to prove.

As a simple precaution though, they suggest putting reusable bags in your regular weekly laundry. They also suggest other common sense health precautions for food safety that apply whether you use plastic, canvas or paper bags. You can find these at, for example,


So much for the downsides of the plastic ban ordinance. What are the upsides? They are many: SLO consumers will use 130 million fewer plastic bags annually. That means that much less litter along our streets, bushes and creeks; less damage to wildlife; less cost to waste collection and landfill operation; less energy wasted and less pollution generated in their production, and less cost to consumers who ultimately pay for them.

Whenever our elected officials deal with any such contentious issues will ideological considerations guide their decision? Or will their decision be governed by thoughtfully weighing the pros and cons of that decision. We can only hope for the latter.

Dr. Ray Weymann, a retired astronomer, moved to Atascadero in 2003. His interests include public science education, math tutoring for students and civic engagement.

For the complete article see the 01-11-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-11-2013 paper.

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