greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement


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why did getting rid of plastic bags get rid of other kinds of trash?

There is a stretch of three or four blocks of undeveloped land I sometimes walk past in my city. In the past this land would attract a lot of litter. I would see empty plastic bags that supermarkets use to bag groceries. I would also see a lot of food packaging, such as cracker boxes. And also fast food packaging, such as McDonald bags and boxes for hamburgers. Then my city instituted a green bag ordinance. Now when you buy food at a supermarket, if you want them to bag your groceries in one of their bags, plastic or paper, you have to pay ten cents for the bag. Hence many customers are bringing their own cloth bags to supermarket to have their purchases put in.
Now when I walk past that same stretch I notice there are fewer empty plastic bags from supermarkets thrown down as litter. And that I understand, people probably aren't getting those at the supermarket as much since they cost. But I also notice there is much less of the fast food and food container trash as well. That one I don't get, as people using fewer supermarket bags wouldn't affect their throwing down fast food trash. Can you explain it?

  • Apr 5 2014: Greg I think it may be the same principle cities have discovered in all abnormalities. Problems that are left unchecked seem to attract even more problems and the opposite is also true in the opposite direction. They are using this principle on graffiti and asking the community of business owners to pitch in and help so they feel some of the responsibility. After all, it some of their kids that are involved either in doing it or knowing who is doing it. Good move and it works.
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      Apr 6 2014: well, there is something the police have used called the "broken windows" principle. If a window gets broken in a community and left unrepaired, then other crime is more likely to appear in the community. Somehow I don't have the feeling that is what is happening here, Keith, I wish you were right, but I somehow think people would still throw down their McDonald's bag even if there weren't any supermarket bags there. And yet in some cases I think the broken windows idea would work, I wonder why I think it doesn't apply in this case. Maybe there's just more people who are inclined to litter versus do bigger crimes.
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    Apr 2 2014: People in cars were using the plastic bags to put other rubbish in, then throwing the bag of rubbish on the vacant land when the bag was full. Now that the supply of free bags has dried up they throw each piece of rubbish out as it occurs. The rubbish that used to be concentrated on the vacant land is now spread evenly over the surrounding streets. That's my theory anyway ;)
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      Apr 6 2014: well, it's very intelligent, I wouldn't have thought of it. Only thing is, in the past before the green bag ordinance went into effect, I wasn't seeing plastic bags full of trash, I realize that the wind could cause the trash to come out of the bag, but if you were right, I would have expected to see some bags with the trash still in them. So I'm not convinced yet. Do you yourself do that, peter, keep a bag of trash in your car? Are they doing the green bag thing in your neck of the woods?
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        Apr 7 2014: I do keep a plastic bag hanging off the passengers window winder, but I of course dispose of mine responsibly. :) They are starting to get rid of plastic bags down hear but it's fairly slow going. An appendix to my theory is that the cheap plastic bags photo-degrade once out in the sun leaving the rubbish exposed. Or maybe people who only have one bag empty them onto the vacant lot but if they don't have a bag it;s too hard to carry all the little bits of rubbish any distance so it goes on the street. Explaining human behavior is always entertaining.
  • Apr 2 2014: The kind of local government that clamps down on plastic bags is also the kind that spends more money keeping the streets clean.
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      Apr 6 2014: well, this isn't the street rodrigo, it's a vacant stretch of land next to the street. I haven't seen any city workers out there cleaning it up, but it is possible that I missed them. Possibly I'll ask the city if they've sent some workers there.
      • Apr 6 2014: It gets dropped on the street then blown into the corners and across waste land. And then back to the street again.
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          Apr 7 2014: yeah, rodrigo, except if that were true I wouldn't have ever seen trash on the land, would I? I'm saying that in the past there was a mix of trash on the land, some plastic grocery bags, and some other kinds of trash. When the groceries started putting a charge on the bags, you didn't see any more plastic grocery bags among the trash. That I understand. What I don't understand is why the other kinds of litter also diminished.
      • Apr 7 2014: The other kinds of litter also diminished because it was beling cleaned up before it blew onto the waste land by the environmentally-friendly local authorities.
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          Apr 7 2014: it is possible, rodrigo, although i have not seen them out there. But let's say that's not what happened, I have a feeling it's not what happened because I know my city has a tight budget right now. Is there a reason why people having less plastic supermarket bags to throw down would also make them throw down fewer McDonald's bags? Because even if they aren't getting the plastic bags at the supermarket any more since there's now a charge on them, they still are going to McDonald's, I wouldn't think they would change the behavior of going to McDonald's just because they had to change at the supermarket.

          I appreciate your discussing it with me. It makes me think a little of a crime scene investigation, looking at the aftermath of something and trying to figure out what happened. But in this case, fortunately, it's really not a "problem," in actuality, it's good that both kinds of trash diminished.
      • Apr 7 2014: Carrying rubbish around is an indignity. So is being punished for littering. As the environmentally-unfriendly become aware of their environmentaly-friendly environment, they become less likely to choose littering.