“There isn’t a plastic bag to be found in Barrington,” said the hardware store clerk as he put my damp potted basil plants in a small paper bag for me in mid-May. I had just asked him to put the plants in a plastic bag so they wouldn’t leak in the car. “Great Barrington outlawed them last year and the law went into effect this March,” he said. Knowing the ban was in place, we took our reusable bags out of the car to shop for groceries next door. If you need bags, the store has endcaps with good quality reusable bags for sale at a cost of 2 bags for 3 bucks.
At checkout, customers bagged their own groceries. Nobody griped and everyone seemed happy about the new environmentally friendly town status. We were thrilled to see the bag ban working so well.
Here at home, clerks overbag everything. The mindset seems to be, the more bags the better. Almost every item gets another bag, or gets double-bagged even when not needed. To my chagrin, I’ve even left things behind at stores because there were too many bags. To solve this problem, I now try to bag my own when I check out, and I try to remember to bring my reusable bags whenever I can.
The worldwide glut of plastic bags is a huge environmental problem that we didn’t have 30 years ago. In the USA, we use over 100 billion plastic bags a year; that’s 83 bags per person, or one bag each every 4 days. The billions we use wind up in landfills where they take about 300 years to photodegrade into tiny particles. Those microparticles then contaminate the soil and waterways and eventually the food chain once animals or fish ingest them. Plastic bag debris is found in the oceans and on beaches and is responsible for the needless death of hundreds of thousands of sea creatures every year either through ingestion or by getting entangled in them.
New York City is contemplating a law to charge 10 cents per plastic bag. Other cities across the country have similar fees in place. Some cities in California charge 25 cents per bag, and other cities, like Seattle, ban them outright. New York passed a law in 2009 requiring large stores to provide containers for the collection of unwanted plastic bags, but lack of interest and poor enforcement has hardly moved the needle on the bag problem. Clearly, this law is not working as intended.
Voluntary efforts to encourage reusable bags around the country have failed. According to studies, small fee charges don’t seem to make much of a difference either. The only thing that succeeds is a total ban like that enacted in Great Barrington. Watch for a major pushback from the plastic industry and those connected to the bags, and the right-wingers who will shout about Liberals and more government overreach. We need to move forward with bag restriction laws that work for our own good. Until then, let’s pledge to only using reusable bags when shopping and get in the habit of taking responsible action toward saving our environment.