, Newburyport, MA

February 20, 2013

People won't give up plastic bags unless they have to

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Thank you for your recent well-intentioned editorial regarding plastic bags. His premise, however, that we consumers will do the right thing is in my opinion highly flawed and unrealistic. We need look no further than smoking as a prime example. How many of us can remember when smoking was allowed and quite prevalent in bars and restaurants? Did the smokers “do the right thing” and go outside to smoke? I don’t ever remember that happening. But I do remember coming home from that restaurant or bar drenched in smoke (no, I did/do not smoke), and still get the whiff of such smells at one of our local establishments, even though it was banned years ago.

No one had the common courtesy or common sense (or cared enough) to go outside, so unfortunately we had to legislate this behavior for the good of all. Plastic bags? Look around even here in the fairly socially responsible city of Newburyport and you will notice most consumers not doing the right thing. More people are bringing bags with them, but still most not. Go to another town or city, not quite so environmentally astute, and you will find virtually no one bringing them. At Walgreen’s the other day, the pharmacy attendant automatically put the lady in front of me’s prescription (which was already in a bag) in a plastic bag without even asking if she wanted it in another bag! Neither of them “did the right thing.” We here in the United States are most wasteful and generally unawares of our actions, and mostly unwilling to change, unless we have to! More examples: texting and cellphone use, seat belts.

Your editorial says: “the proliferation of plastic bags is a problem, but it would be wrong to attempt to legislate it away through fines and hard-headed government intervention.” Sometimes we need government intervention to save us from ourselves; case in point: how many lives were saved by Governor Patrick and his staff’s decision to ban non-emergency driving, during and just after the recent storm? Our habits are all very hard to break, but unfortunate as it is, most of us need personal incentives or penalties to do so, and we have proven over and over unwilling to change unless we have to. In Mondragogne, Italy (home of my ancestors), many years ago I was shopping at a supermarket, and after my groceries were rung up, was waiting for them to be bagged. They looked at me like I had five heads. Yes, they all needed to bring their own bags or boxes.

Kudos, and thank yous to Manchester-by-the-Sea and state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (Marblehead) for having the cahones, convictions and foresight to work for positive change on this issue.

Rama Valianti