- - Thursday, May 1, 2014

The vision of modern liberal America is not a pretty one. Lukewarm takeout food flops out of flimsy containers. Shoppers struggle home with groceries in soiled reusable bags that collect deadly food-borne bacteria. Joggers ward off thirst with tap water from dirty bottles. It’s a sight that only a hippie who missed the last streetcar home from the ‘60s could appreciate.

The avant-garde outposts across America are banning Styrofoam coffee cups, plastic shopping bags and bottled water. Based on the latest environmentalist fads, such attacks on modern convenience come with nasty unintended consequences, ranging from inconvenience to sickness and, conceivably, even death.

Policymakers in New York City; San Francisco; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Amherst, Mass., who have outlawed polystyrene foam, or Styrofoam, force consumers to carry food in flimsy paper or plastic containers that can’t keep hot food warm or cold food cold, and often pop open or collapse, dumping the food on clothes, floors or furniture.

These foam coffee cups and takeout containers are a staple of mom-and-pop diners across America, so the ban amounts to a tax on the delis and coffee shops that can least afford to absorb another penalty. MB Public Affairs calculates that New York City’s ban cost small businesses $91.3 million annually.

The attack on Styrofoam is accompanied on another battle front by the assault on plastic bags, which has swept through more than 150 cities and towns across the continent, including such bastions of the politically correct as Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Portland; San Francisco; and Seattle. Other cities, such as the nation’s capital, imposed a nickel fee on plastic bags, converting the environmental fad into a money-making proposition.

Plastic-bag prohibitions make the environmentalists feel warm and fuzzy, but for shoppers who forget to go to the grocery store armed with their own bags, they’re annoying and inconvenient. Consumers who once recycled the plastic shopping bags as liners for small trash cans now must deal with the rancid sludge that pools at the bottom of the cans. Dog poop is left more often on lawns by pet owners who no longer have an inexpensive, convenient bag in which to carry it to a disposal bin.

These are small annoyances, but they accumulate. And annoyance becomes a lethal threat when shoppers turn to reusable canvas or nylon bags that are rarely washed. Bacteria love them. A leaky package of chicken breasts can contaminate fruit or vegetables bought and carried home days later. A study by the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Law and Economics links bag bans to a 25 percent increase in emergency-room visits and illnesses from food-borne bacteria, such as coliform and E.coli.

Looking to one-up its liberal municipal rivals, San Francisco’s city council recently voted to outlaw bottled water. Anyone working up a thirst in the “City by the Bay” won’t quench it with soda pop, either. The council has proposed a stifling tax on soft drinks and is toying with the idea of prohibiting sales of soda pop altogether.

With each ban, prohibition and regulation, the left is killing freedom of choice, replacing it with the choices made by bureaucrats. If they can take away functional toilets, light bulbs, coffee cups and water, what can’t they do? Will soda pop speakeasies be far behind?