Mayor Walsh’s Instinct Is Right on Plastic Bags

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Update 12:14 p.m. Monday, December 18:  Mayor Marty Walsh has signed the ordinance banning thin-film plastic bags.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s hesitancy to sign an ordinance banning thin-film plastic bags from supermarkets and drug stores is a good sign.

The City Council passed the ordinance unanimously, and it has the good-environmentalist seal of approval.

So why is Mayor Walsh hesitating?

He thinks it might hurt people.

Walsh noted recently that the ordinance bans thin-film plastic bags and requires a price difference between big plastic bags and brown paper bags. Brown paper bags would be free, while thicker, larger, supposedly reusable plastic bags would cost customers five cents.

He noted that may not seem like a lot.

“Yeah, but we’re nickeling and diming our seniors. It’s five cents here, it’s five cents there. … All the costs are going up. They’re not going down,” Walsh said.

Add another consideration that might be worse. Imagine an older woman living alone walking to a Stop & Shop in Dorchester to get a few things. After she pays for them, she can use the shopping carriage to get them to the end of the parking lot, but then the wheels lock automatically, and from there she has to carry what she has.

Thin-film white plastic bags are unusually easy to carry, even several at a time, because they’re small, fit easily in a hand, and stretch. Large brown paper bags, on the other hand, have little give and require an unusual amount of arm strength, of the sort an older lady isn’t likely to have.

The larger, thicker, so-called reusable plastic bags are relatively light, but not when they’re filled. They don’t stretch as much as small thin-film plastic bags and they punish hands and arms when they have a lot of things in them.

So the elderly lady has a decision to make:  Fill up the free brown paper bags she can’t carry; or fill up the pay-extra plastic bags she’ll probably struggle to carry; or get fewer groceries.

Such considerations are nothing to young Back Bay professionals who order their groceries online from Whole Foods and have someone else deliver them.

Liberals are at their best when they actually care about people. Even their wrongheaded Big Government prescriptions are easier to take when they are trying to lower costs or improve access for poor people.

This ban on thin-film plastic bags does neither. It makes people’s lives harder. It hurts people living at the margins of society for what would at best be a marginal improvement in the environment. (If that.)

Mayor Walsh’s instinct on this one is correct. He should veto the measure, and let city councilors explain why they value the environment over people.