, Newburyport, MA

July 23, 2013

At what cost convenience?

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

As a young girl I used to go shopping with my grandmother in Philadelphia. We would walk down a long hill to the green grocer, the butcher and the drug store/soda fountain, where we always seemed to end up with an ice cream cone. Then we would walk back up the hill to the house. Amazingly we were able to stop at several stores and bring home the groceries for the family without the use of plastic. My grandmother took her own cloth bags, the butcher would wrap the meat in butcher paper, produce was not in styrofoam or plastic but was loose and went right into her bag that way. Occasionally we would need a paper bag. which would be later used as a trash bag.

Somewhere along the way grocery stores started routinely providing paper bags and in the late ‘70s started replacing them with thin plastic bags into which items were tossed to jostle, poke and sag in a haphazard jumble on the way home. I didn’t really think about this change as it was happening, but as I’ve become more conscious about our use of the earth’s resources and its impact on our finite planet, I’ve begun to believe that we need to become more careful and mindful of the resources we choose to consume.

I am grateful to all those involved in the Citizen for Sustainable Bagging initiative. I’ve seen the movie “Bag It” at a community screening and on PortMedia and have been reading the articles, editorials and the letters to the editor of The Daily News. Their efforts have already served to raise awareness of the plastic bag issue in our community.

I’m not particularly fond of either paper or plastic bags. There has been much written on the paper vs. plastic debate, but there are several features of plastic bags that I believe make them worthy of special attention. Single-use plastic bags are more pervasive than paper bags, constituting four out of five grocery bags produced. Plastic bags are a petroleum-based product that do not biodegrade. Finally, they pose a unique threat to marine mammals and other wildlife, over 100,000 of whom die each year as a result of ingesting plastic bags.

So why do I support a single-use plastic bag ban or fee? Because both have been proven effective in reducing the use of plastic bags in communities where they have been implemented. There is no doubt that single-use plastic bags are a convenience, but can anyone assert that they are a necessity when there is a viable, inexpensive alternative — reusable bags. Is convenience worth the full cost of using plastic bags? I think not.

I believe that Newburyport has the will; now we just need to find the way.

Elizabeth Marcus