To the editor:
There is a groundswell of interest in limiting single-use plastic bags, those bags that end up stuck in trees or washed out to sea. Single-use plastic bags are non-biodegradable and are a major source of pollution. A number of us are working to encourage alternative practices that would be better for the environment and reflect Newburyport’s reputation as a green community. We believe these efforts can be a source of community pride and another way to make Newburyport even more attractive to visitors and residents.
Last month, groups of students went out on the streets and surveyed all the Newburyport merchants as to their attitudes about singl-use plastic bags. The students included Newburyport High School’s Environmental Club, the Gulf of Maine Institute, River Valley Charter School and the Nock Middle School. A total of 104 merchants responded to the short survey, including the downtown, Story Avenue, Water Street and State Street areas. All merchants in the city were asked to participate. Here is what they said.
Of the respondents, only one-quarter of the merchants surveyed offer only plastic bags. So three-quarters already offer an alternative to plastic bags. Of the 25 percent who offer only plastic bags, more than half (60 percent) say they would be willing to switch to another type of bag. Almost three-quarters (71 percent) of all merchants favor some change in their approach to plastic bag use. Changes mentioned were a small fee charged to the consumer for each bag used (with certain exceptions), a ban on those bags and educating consumers about the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags.
Here is a breakdown of the changes the merchants favor: 45 percent favor educating consumers about the use of plastic bags, 35 percent favor a city ordinance that would prohibit the use of plastic bags altogether (with certain exclusions that have been used elsewhere), and 19 percent favor charging a small fee for the use of plastic bags. The fee could be used to cover the cost of cleaning up plastic bag pollution and providing cloth bags to those who cannot afford them.
We feel that the time is right for legislation here in Newburyport to reduce plastic bag use. There is more work to be done on this issue to make this happen, but this is a step we can take as a community, joining other Massachusetts communities that have taken this action, including Brookline and Manchester. To learn more, come to the public showing of the film “Bag It” and public discussion to take place at Newburyport High School on May 22, 7 p.m. In addition, public showings of “Bag It” will be running on Channel 8 throughout the month of April. Let’s make this happen!
Citizens for Sustainable Bagging Committee
Janine Brunell Looker, Martha McManamy and Sheila Taintor