Friday, June 19, 2009

Legislating Morality

Anyone who still believes the stupid old saying “you can’t legislate morality” needs only to review the latest fiat from the Madison City Council: Thou Shall Recycle Plastic Bags. Talk about legislating morality! Not only did the alders approve the ordinance, they admit enforcing it will be difficult, that there’ll be no fines for not complying with it, and that the real thrust here is “education”.

We legislate morality every day. We have laws against everything from murder to child molesting to stealing things. Our laws, ordinances, and rules are many times just an expansion of the ten commandments.

Now, we must be educated that discarding those ubiquitous plastic bags should be done in a certain way. However, if you use a plastic bag the way my wife does…to pick up the dog-doo when she takes our Collie for her morning constitutional…it’s OK to “put it in the trash”. There’s a convenient trash-barrel on their path in the morning. Soiled plastic bags can be disposed of in the trash, under the new rule. But not “clean” bags.

The council hopes the new ordinance will kick in this fall, on the first of September. They tasked the city’s Streets and Recycling Department to come up with 13 drop-off sites for our clean, used plastic bags.

If there’s mass voluntary compliance with this new ordinance, the local recycling mavens will have their hands full. Supporters claim we use 75 million plastic bags a year in Madison. That’s 205-thousand plastic bags a day, or just about one plastic bag a day for every man, woman, and child in the city.

Apparently just tossing the bags out somehow gums up the works over at the recycling plant on Fish Hatchery Road. They get all tangled up in the gears of the sorting equipment. But anybody who drives around the city knows where a good number of the bags end up: blowing in the wind and littering the city.

Will it be a pain in the butt to follow the new rule when it kicks in? Probably. But just as we learned years ago to separate our recyclables from our regular trash, we’ll adapt.

Small pain, big gain.


  1. I like to remember George Carlin's routine:

    "The planet has been through all kinds of things worse than us; been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sunspots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles, hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages... and we think some plastic bags... and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?"

    Steve Erbach
    Neenah, WI

  2. Many of the bags provide fashion and shelter for our homeless. The sight of a frail plastic bag struggling again the relentless winds of nature gives me hope that some day I, too, can be free.Honor the bag!