Dirty dishes in Spokane: When “green” laws fail
Posted by sanityinjection on March 27, 2009
The Associated Press brings us the sad story of the people of Spokane County, Washington, who can’t get their dishes clean:
This is a classic example of how well-meaning “green” initiatives can backfire. Spokane County thought it was doing something great for the environment by enacting a local ordinance banning high-phosphate dish detergents. The good people of Spokane tried using the “green” detergents, but found they didn’t work as well, so they ended up just crossing the state line to Idaho to buy the polluting detergents again. The environment doesn’t benefit, just storeowners in Idaho, while both businesses and residents in Spokane are inconvenienced.
Low-phosphate detergents are a good idea, but this sort of regulation has to be broader than just one county, or else it will inevitably fail. The lesson for local governments is: Don’t try to save the world – stick to focusing on things you can control. If you must tackle larger issues, do so together with your neighbors, don’t try to go it alone.
The lesson for all of us is: It doesn’t matter how well-meaning you may be or how earnest your desire to preserve the environment. Anytime an environmental initiative – or any government initiative, really – is proposed, instead of moving forward on an ideological basis (“Clean water good, phosphates bad!”), you have to look forward and see what the practical consequences are going to be. What happened in Spokane was entirely predictable and could have been avoided if enough people had looked at the issue practically instead of emotionally.