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Paper or plastic?
     |     August 29, 2012     |      Good Government

SPRINGFIELD – “I didn’t realize you were a tree hugger.”

The words came from the fellow behind me in a grocery checkout line after I asked for paper rather than plastic bags.

Without fail, I ask store clerks for paper sacks.

I just prefer them.

My choice has little to do with the environment and everything to do with personal preference.

Here is what I like about paper bags:

•        They ride in the back of my truck without spilling groceries everywhere.

•        My three daughters enjoy coloring on the sacks when I get home, which saves me money on buying drawing paper.

•        Paper sacks are even better than newspapers for lining a puppy’s cage.

Despite my strong preference for paper, I couldn’t imagine imposing my choice on others.

After all, my wife finds plastic bags to be the ideal receptacles for soiled diapers, wet swimsuits or many of the other messes our children create. So, she never asks for paper – it’s always plastic for her.

That’s one of the nice things about a free-market system — merchants are able to be responsive to the desires of consumers.

Unfortunately, there are folks in Springfield and city halls across the state who think they know what’s best for consumers.

When it comes to plastic bags, most state lawmakers want to over regulate.

In fact, the legislature passed a bill that would have regulated plastic bags to the point that only a few companies would have continued to manufacture them for use within the state.

It also imposed a host of regulations detrimental to the consumer.

About the only the only thing positive about the bill is that it would have prevented cities from regulating plastic bags on their own.

Recently, Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill – for all of the wrong reasons.

He thinks local governments ought to be able to ban plastic bags if they want to.

Unless the legislature overrides the veto, “Government-knows-best” communities such as Evanston and Oak Park will be free to regulate plastic bags. And it’s not just the Chicago suburbs. Folks in downstate Champaign are considering imposing a fee whenever a clerk puts merchandise into a plastic bag.

While it’s a good thing the state plastic bag bill ended up in the gubernatorial trash bin, one ought to keep an eye on what is happening on a municipal level.

Sometimes its hard to tell whether city councils are motivated by the altruistic desire to help the environment or the avarice of seeing a new revenue stream to milk.

Cities such as Washington, D.C., already have such a tax.

Other places such as Seattle and Los Angeles have banned plastic bags.

Opponents of plastic bags say wildlife is harmed when animals ingest or become tangled in the bags.

But shouldn’t those concerned about wildlife focus on changing minds rather than laws?

After all, consumers are the most powerful force in our economy.

Informed citizens can make change without a single law being passed.

It’s as simple as how people answer the question: Do you want paper or plastic?


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Scott Reeder is the Executive Editor of the Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. Scott joined INN after more than 25 years covering local and state government. He made a national name for himself investigating teacher tenure in Illinois and the lack of accountability in the teacher certification process.

Scott previously served as a national managing editor for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he worked to establish a national network of statehouse bureaus. Prior to his time with Franklin, he ran an Illinois statehouse bureau for 10 years providing customized statehouse coverage for newspapers in five Illinois communities.

Among the journalism awards he has captured are the Investigative Reporters and Editors Freedom of the Information Award, the Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and the John Aubuchon Freedom of Information Award, which is the highest honor of Capitolbeat, a national association of statehouse journalists.

He received his bachelor’s in journalism from Iowa State University and holds a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He and his wife, Joan, reside near Springfield and have three daughters: Grace, Anna and Caitlin.