Getting Off A Plastic Bag Addiction

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - February 13, 2008
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The great plastic bag debate of 2008 isn’t so great after all. In fact it’s been reduced to a mere murmur and I, for one, am disappointed the discussion is ending so soon. Both the City Council and the Legislature have “temporarily” shelved bills to ban plastic grocery bags, caving in to the opposition from food retailers and others. It’s not surprising - everywhere this or similar measures have been proposed the initial reaction has been about the same. People love the convenience of cheap plastic bags.

I think we should talk about this. I carry my own bags to groceries and yes, it was a tiny bit inconvenient at first. I’d run into the market and remember, too late, that the bags were still in the trunk of the car. I had to train myself, make it a habit. Park. Pop open the trunk. Grab the bags. Now it’s a no-brainer.

I’ve got a collection of sturdy canvas totes and a bunch of those reusable bags the grocers give out or sell. You can stuff a lot into them and they don’t break.

I admit the cheap plastic bags haven’t quite disappeared from my house - I get them occasionally and reuse them (mostly for kitty litter).

But it’s amazing how much clutter is gone. No more plastic bags overflowing out of drawers and closets. No more guilt about throwing them away. And I have the satisfaction of knowing I’m doing something small but proactive.

That’s the key. A small action that, if done by many, has huge, positive consequences for the earth. It’s like switching to CFLs. One person changing one bulb doesn’t accomplish much. When thousands do it, it makes a difference.

A ban shouldn’t be the only option on the table for discussion. Communities and countries around the world are tackling the problem in different ways. One of the most successful is Ireland, which in 2002 took a couple of simple and effective actions. First, a tax - which is now 33 cents per bag. And then, a comprehensive advertising awareness campaign. Within weeks of the levy and the campaign, demand for plastic had dropped like a stone - more than 90 percent!

Just look at the HI 5 program here - it took a tax to get islanders to (finally!) recycle their bottles and cans. People grumbled, they were outraged, but more and more, they’re doing it. I don’t know why we have to be forced to recycle in our fragile island state, but that, unfortunately, has been the reality. I’m looking for a new reality.

We need a carrot and stick approach. What we should aim for is making the use of reusable totes hip and cool. But at the same time we need to make the common use of cheap plastic bags not only expensive, but socially unacceptable, like buying a gasguzzling vehicle, or wasting water, or leaving your (incandescent) light bulbs on all day. That may be what it takes to break a bad and wasteful habit. Our individual actions make a difference. I’m sick of people telling us we can’t change the world, or even our own community. I believe we can.

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