The thought of banning those awful single-use plastic shopping bags used by most stores is enticing, but the Libertarian in me gets squeamish when government sticks its nose into the business of business.

The New Bedford City Council is set to debate a well-intended proposal for a limited ban the plastic bags introduced by Joe Lopes of Ward 6. The bags are a nuisance and are bad for the environment. I think stores should stop offering them but I don't think the local government should ban them.

Consumers are increasingly opting for alternatives to plastic bags. Some are requesting paper rather than plastic bags, while an increasing number of shoppers are simply bringing their own cloth bags to the market. National chain stores such as Walmart have begun phasing out the single-use bag and have replaced it with a reusable, hand-washable, biodegradable bag. Others will follow suit.

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Local governments can play a role by encouraging stores to replace single-use bags with more environmentally-friendly alternatives by offing incentives or recognition. Citizens can also be encouraged to bring their own bags when they shop. Cloth bags are relatively inexpensive and can be given away with the help of sponsorships at a minimal cost as part of a public awareness campaign.

Rather than banning plastic bags, the Council should launch a public education campaign to encourage consumers as well as merchants to consider alternatives.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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