Portsmouth bag ban: Out-of-state group failed but will be back

By Steve MacDonald

On Monday, the Portsmouth City Council was to vote on the “plastic bag ban” proposal in an attempt by elements in the City of Portsmouth to advance another plastic bag ban. Instead, the council postponed a vote on the ban pending review by the City Manager.

It is unclear what the city manager can do. There is no legislative support or enabling legislation. Correspondent Kimberly Haas from the Union Leader adds that the city reached out to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the Waste Management Division but could not get anyone to take a favorable position. The State attorney general’s office is not biting either. No one is prepared to give Portsmouth a leg to stand on, but out-of-state interests won’t let that stop them.

For background, a look at the 2015 effort to ban plastic bags in Portsmouth leads to an outside organization called Surfrider.org. Surfrider is a multi-million dollar “non-profit” and since Portsmouth’s last bout of banning hijinks Surfrider has been responsible for pushing two pieces of legislation in New Hampshire to remove some hurdles, using a bill in Virginia as a template.

Senate Bill 410 (SB 410) was introduced in 2016 (By Martha Fuller Clark) but failed to get out of the State Senate. House Bill 418 (HB481) was brought forward in 2017 but did not make any headway in the House. In 2018 it is expected that HB 481 or a bill like it will be resurrected for that session and every year until they find a formula, words, or the right trigger (or just enough Democrats) to get what they are after.

But what are they after? Surfrider claims to be motivated by keeping plastic out of the ocean but why do plastic bag bans look like a means to a different end:

The [New Hampshire] chapter is working to craft testimony that speaks to why keeping a mandatory, uniform fee on paper is essential to properly incentivize the use of reusable bags and keep costs of paper consistent from big to small stores. Handing out paper bags for free costs businesses more money than plastic bags AND simply shifts the pollution problem from plastics to paper.

Charging for paper bags and banning plastic keeps customers out of local businesses too, but why worry about that when keeping plastic out of the ocean helps you list build and community organize to re-engineer everyone else’s behavior?

Portsmouth is on the ocean, and it’s a liberal enclave that buys into whatever environmental garbage the machine spits out. It is a suitable beginning for a larger agenda. One that begins with banning some plastic bags because some are easier to pass than most or all.

Surfrider’s real plan for Portsmouth and the rest of New Hampshire appears geared towards driving Granite Staters away from paper and plastic to a bag that uses more energy to produce, is harder to recycle, and would create greater stress on the waste stream. Reusable bags have the largest carbon footprint of all.

Screw the potential health risk of forcing reusable bags on everyone. Ignore the environmental concerns for the care and cleaning of bags (increased use of water, energy, and detergents) to avoid the health risks.

Thin film bags are popular, reusable, and have a smaller carbon footprint in production and when recycled. Paper bags are more expensive and less environmentally friendly than thin-film bags. And all the while there is still no supporting scientific research to suggest a change in land-based use would have any impact on debris in the ocean. None of these factors matter.

Should “they” get the ban the next step is to push for a tax on all plastic bags, and paper as well with a goal of pushing everyone to so-called “reusable” bags.” But not today.

While Surfrider continues putting on a local face by hosting trash pick-up events at local beaches, cheerleader and city councilor, Bradley Lown does not appear interested in giving up on the bag ban. He believes Portsmouth can implement the ban because no one would challenge the ordinance if passed, even though, just the other day he is reported as saying,

…“that in general, it’s a good idea to avoid litigation.” “But there are some situations like this where it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “It would be simple and inexpensive. One of the city attorneys could do it, and it wouldn’t take long.”

Nothing is at it seems with these people. But it’s true that the ban has a very real impact on jobs and commerce. Plastic is not the threat they claim, and reusable bags are not better for the environment. The people of Portsmouth may be more interested in the idea if it actually served a purpose.