Michigan has banned plastic bag bans. You read that right: not plastic bags, but bans on plastic bags. The state has passed a new law which prevents local governments from banning the use of not only plastic bags but pretty much any kind of disposable container, no matter what it’s made of.
The act, signed into law just before the end of 2016, is designed to “preempt local ordinances” that might seek to regulate the sale and use of unnecessary packaging.
Plastic bags don’t biodegrade–not even the biodegradable ones. They just break down into ever smaller pieces and end up polluting waterways, oceans, and lakes where they choke fish, and fill the bellies of seabirds and whales. But Michigan’s ban isn’t just on bags. It also covers cups, bottles, and other packaging, reusable or single-use. Nor does it cover only plastic. Anything that is “made of cloth, paper, plastic, cardboard, corrugated material, aluminum, glass, postconsumer recycled material, or similar material or substrates” is included in the ban.
It gets worse. The ban doesn’t only ban the banning of bags but prevents local governments from taxing them or charging any kind of fee for their use. Effectively, Michigan has locked down any kind of measure that might curtail the pollution caused by disposable containers, whether they’re from takeout food joints or supermarket chains. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, entire countries are moving to ban plastic bags or charging a fee to discourage their use. In its first year, Scotland’s ban on free bags resulted in 650 million fewer bags being used. In 2011, even Afghanistan banned plastic shopping bags, and last year France banned disposable plastic cutlery, sending Europe’s plastic packaging industry into a panic
And it is industry which is the happiest about this environmental disaster. The Michigan Restaurant Association (MRA) was one of the lobby groups pushing for this ban.
“With many of our members owning and operating locations across the state, preventing a patchwork approach of additional regulations is imperative to avoid added complexities as it related to day-to-day business operations,”
said the MRA’s Robert O’Meara in a statement.
Clearly “added complexities” are a far worse prospect than choking our waterways for the next few millennia.
Michigan isn’t the only state to pass such an obviously lobby-pleasing law. Idaho, Arizona, and Missouri have all passed similar laws, says the Washington Post, and in every case these laws have been positioned as business-friendly defenses against additional regulation.
The overall trend, though, seems to be against pollution. Even if these states are in so favor of clogging up the planet’s ecosystem that they pass laws to let everyone continue to do it, less backward places like Bangladesh banned plastic bags way back in 2002. Let’s hope that the U.S. manages to catch up soon.