It was an idea so irredeemably stupid that political media’s incredulous coverage of it betrayed an unspoken assumption that it would never be enforced. And yet, for no discernible reason, every indication suggests New Jersey’s ban on single-use receptacles will come into force this week. Its most measurable effects will be to make life marginally more expensive and less convenient.
In the Garden State, disposable shopping bags—not just plastic bags but paper, too—are no longer available gratis at your local market. This week, they’ll be retired, along with other single-use disposable packaging, and violators will be expected to pay a fine. Only now, however, have local media outlets begun to inquire about the new ban’s unanticipated consequences.
Previously, coverage around the speculative environmental benefits of eliminating single-use carryout bags has been entirely circular: bag bans, research concludes, are an effective way to ban bags! The environmental benefits associated with forcing consumers to purchase reusable bags, which are more energy- and resource-intensive to produce than their disposable alternatives, are far more dubious. Moreover, as NJ.com reluctantly explored on the eve of the ban’s implementation, the ban’s practical effects will be to make life measurably more irritating, especially for the low-income and disabled, while forcing the state to hypocritically avoid enforcing the law when it inconveniences constituencies this one-party state favors.
This is just one of the many minor inconveniences that are contributing to a major headache. In the name of this, that, or the other urgent crisis, Democrats are forcing their eccentric lifestyle choices on the broader public. Individually, they are hassles that could be absorbed without producing any broader political effect. Cumulatively, however, the increased cost of and burdens around daily life are becoming hard to ignore.
Before the onset of the pandemic, blue states and cities across the country busied themselves with banning the distribution of single-use plastic straws. The strictness of those bans differed depending on locale—from total prohibition to just keeping the plastic stuff in reserve, available only upon request. A public health emergency forced many legislatures to pause the implementation of bans targeting single-use plastics, their unparalleled medical value being inarguable. But the bans are making a comeback as the pandemic recedes, even though no one has yet developed a biodegradable alternative to plastic straws that won’t biodegrade in your drink.
The state of California pioneered the now widespread effort led by the environmentalist left to ban the use of small combustion engines like those commonly found in lawn equipment. “Small gas engines are not only bad for our environment and contributing to our climate crisis, they can cause asthma and other health issues for workers who use them,” said one California assemblywoman. That logic was sufficient to convince the state to force the individual residents, who own most of the lawn equipment in California, to invest in and transition to battery-powered equipment, even though those devices lack the power provided by gasoline-fueled small engines.
The Biden administration may finish what California started. The White House’s gimmicky efforts to drive down gas prices has led the administration to approve the sale of 15 percent ethanol-blended gasoline over the summer—a threshold that exceeds the limit that can be safely used in small engines such as those found in lawn equipment. Consumers who don’t want to see their small engines fused into an unusable hunk of metal will have to commit the time and money necessary to go find specialized gasoline or purchase additional chemical stabilizers.
The Biden administration is helping liberate Americans from the conveniences and frivolities they enjoyed in other ways, too. The 46th president entered office determined to implement the ban on incandescent lightbulbs that the Trump administration paused. The new rules will supposedly save consumers billions of dollars per year and cut global carbon emissions by a measurable amount, and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association insists LED lights have been “fully embraced by consumers,” according to NPR. That is an odd assertion to make given the abundance of complaints raised by those same consumers who don’t prefer LEDs to the warm light produced by incandescent bulbs. And old-fashioned filament bulbs remain the preference of consumers farther down the socioeconomic ladder.
Under the auspices of another imperative–the preservation of public health–the Food and Drug Administration is reportedly preparing to ban the sale of mentholated tobacco products. The alleged beneficiaries of this crusade seem none too happy about it. According to the CDC’s data, young people and African Americans are most likely to smoke menthol cigarettes, a phenomenon those who want to ban this product attribute more to pernicious marketing than consumer preferences.
Advocates claim the ban will do more to “reduce health disparities in the black community” than less targeted actions. But prominent black activists and interest groups warn this meddlesomeness will have terrible unanticipated consequences. Among them, the increased likelihood of police interactions with African Americans whose legal means of stress-reduction has suddenly been prohibited, and the hypocrisy of governmental efforts to protect consumers of unhealthy commodities preferred by the gentry class (like marijuana products) from the regulations imposed on the tobacco industry.
If anything unites these disparate crusades, it is that modern progressivism has become a lifestyle brand—one that its practitioners are eager to impose on you. You should avoid single-use plastics, not for practical purposes but to contribute to the moral imperative of saving the world. You should use electric equipment to maintain your property. And if your property has a footprint that doesn’t fit within the compact urban/suburban circumstances preferred by progressives over sprawling neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes, too bad. All the horrors of prohibition—from illicit marketplaces, to overburdening law enforcement, to the increased risk of unnecessary conflict between police and formerly law-abiding citizens—are dismissed. If reckless menthol cigarette smokers won’t do what’s best for themselves, they must be forced to behave more responsibly by a beneficent state.
There’s a strong whiff of condescension and inter-class hostilities in these attempts at social engineering. While these and similar initiatives are not cost-free, taken individually, they are mere annoyances. Taken together, though, they are prods and shoves in a coordinated campaign designed to homogenize the culture and stigmatize the private conduct progressives dislike.