The last installment in a rhetorical analysis of the single-use plastic bag debate
As I have discussed in the past three blog entries, and as Rebekah Fox and Joshua Frye state in their 2010 article, “Tensions of Praxis: A New Taxonomy for Social Movements,” “the relationship between the communication and environment is critical, but difficult to explain.”
In order to achieve a more enlightened human-nature relationship, we must first look at the discourse surrounding our practices with synthetic materials. Rhetoric is an instrument that social movement leaders and organizations use to achieve a number of different effects. Both groups I have discussed in my analysis are trying to achieve an environmental change through transformation of thought. The plastic corporations—the ACC and SPI—are centering their rhetorical argument on recycling. Whereas the environmental groups—Save the Bay and Surfrider Foundation—are moving more towards reusable bags as an end goal, ultimately getting rid of both plastic and paper bags, thus abandoning the throwaway lifestyle our culture has adopted.
It is fascinating to see the direction each side takes in their fight to either ban or not ban single-use plastic bags. Changing human behavior takes time. Both groups seem to agree that we need to change the way we think about our throwaway living. Plastic lobbyists go about this by highlighting the benefits of recycling and the innovations plastics have allowed. Environmental groups attack this concept by pushing for reusable bags to replace all single-use items. Through the means of discourse and visual rhetoric used by each group in the plastic bag debate, each side creates relevant arguments against and for the issue at hand. This analysis attempts to highlight the functions each group’s rhetoric in this debate is trying to achieve.
We are in the era of disposability and we are now recognizing that our plastic throwaways do not simply go away. This realization has caused us to rethink our relationship with single-use items. Each side of the debate has proven how powerful rhetorical arguments can be. Both the plastic corporations and environmental groups in this debate have started to rethink society’s relationship with the material world through their research and verbal discussions.
As the debate continues, which side of the argument do you side with? Paper, plastic or reusable? I invite you to look at fact and myth sheets for yourself and decide where you stand on the plastic versus paper debate, and whether communities around the world should continue to ban or not ban plastic shopping bags. The single-use plastic debate doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon, and by examining the rhetoric from each side of the debate we gain more insight into how each side uses persuasive tactics to transform our thoughts on the issue at hand.
Useful links and fact sheets:
-Surfrider Foundation: http://www.surfrider.org/programs/entry/rise-above-plastics
-American Chemistry Council: http://plastics.americanchemistry.com/MajorMyths
-The Progressive Bag Affiliates: http://www.bagtheban.com/
-Society of the Plastics Industry: http://www.plasticsindustry.org/AboutPlastics/content.cfm?ItemNumber=712&;navItemNumber=1123
Jamie Foster is a second year graduate student in communication studies at San Francisco State University, where she is currently studying the discourse used within the plastic bag debate and how each side—plastic corporations and environmental groups—construct their arguments. Good Times hosted four blogs by Jamie about this subject. If you would like to see a complete version of her paper or have any questions please email her at [email protected]