Recently, I became somewhat annoyed when I was visiting my local grocery store and found that the plastic bags had been removed and that there was now a charge of 5 cents for a paper bag that I could not reuse to bag my groceries for work. Later on, last week, I went to a different grocery store in order to get something for a choir pot luck in Salem and the grocery store I went to had a post that stated that on June 1 or thereabouts, a new city ordinance took effect in Hillsboro that banned plastic bags in grocery stores and that mandated a 5 cent charge for paper bags that was seeking to encourage the reuse of personal bags and apparently some sort of more environmentally conscious shopping experience. This morning, on my way to work, when I returned to the grocery store, I made sure to bring with me one of my reusable bags (and not the one that had been destroyed by my using it as a book tote for the library), and the cashier at the self-checkout line gave me a 6 cent rebate because I had brought my own bag, even if it provided a bit of a hassle at the checkout because the cash register didn’t necessarily like a foreign element that had not been scanned and was a bit irritated about it.
I am not aware of how common such environmentally friendly city ordinances are that seek to micromanage how it is that people go about their daily lives, but I am one of the people that is somewhat annoyed by it. We live in an age where morally corrupt people continually tell us that one cannot legislate morality, but regulations that seek to induce certain behaviors regarding beliefs on environmental sustainability and the reduction of waste products like plastic grocery bags are cases where one is legislating morality. It may not be sexual morality, but it is still morality of a sort. We may call it ecological morality if we wish, but let us recognize that to ban plastic bags and to put charges on the purchase of paper bags and the encouragement of reusable bags is in the same category of regulation that takes place when abortion or sexual behavior is criminalized and regulated, whether we want to admit it or not. And it is irritating, at least to me and to people like me, I suspect, that cities wish to engage in such coercive behaviors to regulate the behavior of people, even when one understands the purposes behind it. I don’t think anyone really enjoys having their personal behaviors affected by the petty regulations of cities, counties, states, federal government, or efforts at one world global governance. It is one thing to choose a course of action because of our belief systems and to live by it, even when it is inconvenient or frustrating, but a less enjoyable experience to have our behavior worked on and influenced by external coercion. I will take up my own crosses to bear far more willingly than I will take up a cross that someone else has forced on my own back.
If anything can be said in the favor of such regulations as Hillsboro’s regulating, it is the fact that there are carrots as well as sticks involved. Regulations always involve sticks–the banning of products (plastic bags), the imposition of fines (deposits on bottles and cans, charges for paper bags)–but there are not always carrots attached. In this particular case, the rebate of seven cents that slightly reduced the price of my weekly groceries was a clear opportunity for people to virtue signal and be rewarded for it. My personal beliefs are that virtue signalling and the attaboys one gets for doing something that is socially approved of is its own reward. At least to me, and I may be somewhat more fussy about it than many others, the only sort of behavior for which one can expect a heavenly reward for are those behaviors that are godly but which either draw the indifference or hostility of the larger society. It is nothing praiseworthy if one acts in a way for which one receives social benefits, for even those only interested in self interest will act in such a fashion that they will receive the approval of their peers.
That said, if you are in Hillsboro or towns like it, you can expect to bring your own bag a lot more often to the grocery store if you want to avoid the charges that come from forgetting and having to use a paper bag. It may be a bit irritating to have to remember one’s cloth bags–I think I’ll just stick mine in my car and add to its already impressive clutter–but saving a few shekels is worth planning a head a bit when it comes to one’s grocery shopping. It may be a bit irritating that future generations will not be able to understand the occasional grocery bag reference that has made its way into popular culture (most notably Gudda Gudda’s immortal line from “Bed Rock,” specifically “I got her n**** / grocery bag.” How are people going to understand that kind of line when the only kind of grocery bags they know are either paper bags or cloth bags used by hipsters and other people motivated to save some money on their shopping. Then again, making Gudda Gudda’s lyrics even less easy to understand may not be such a bad thing, after all.