, Newburyport, MA


August 2, 2013

Single-use plastic bags must go

To the editor:

Humans have an amazing capacity for ingenuity, independent thinking, and improvement. It’s our nature to evolve, which is fortunate. It’s also especially crucial during this time, since we and our more recent forebears have taxed the earth to a dire point — in terms of greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet, as well as toxic pollution that worsens living conditions for most earthly creatures. The plastic bag issue basically boils down to a concern for self-preservation; the better we take care of the earth, the longer it will be habitable. Even if we think that this issue won’t affect us within our lifetime (which it already has), the right thing to do is unquestionably to preserve the environment to the best of our ability, for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

Single-use plastic bags are a double threat because their production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and their disposal pollutes our fragile, crucially valuable habitat. Production and distribution of plastic bags is an extremely energy-intensive process. More than 1.6 billion gallons of oil are used to produce plastic bags in the U.S. annually. Many of us use these bags for a few minutes and then throw them in the trash. Repurposing and reusing them is a slightly better option, but still far from acting sustainably. Recycling trumps dumping, but we can’t forget that it is still an energy-intensive process. Very few plastic grocery bags are recycled — the EPA stated in 2010 that 4.3 percent of all plastic bags were recycled nationwide, and the rate of recycling continues to drop.

Reusable cloth bags are our best option in terms of environmental sustainability. Of course, they take some energy to produce, but they can also be constructed on a DIY basis. Best of all, they are meant to last. Many people have become wary of the cloth bag movement due to a study funded by the American Chemistry Council — a trade association that represents the interests of the plastics industry — that found coliform bacteria in more than half of the bags tested. This may seem shocking, but the lack of information about specific bacterial strains was vague and misleading. E. coli was found in seven of the bags, but most strains of E. coli are harmless, according to the CDC. The lead author of the report, Charles Gerba, stated that the findings don’t imply any future breakouts of disease due to the bags. Additionally, 97 percent of people surveyed did not wash their reusable bags. Dr. Susan Fernyak, director of San Francisco’s Communicable Disease and Control Prevention division clarifies that anything touching meat can become contaminated. Reusable bags are nothing to be worried about, and they are washable!

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