Action for the environment

A state law enacted last year banned the use of single-use plastic shopping bags. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

The following editorial appeared in the Press-Republican on May 12:

PLATTSBURGH — When New York state banned plastic shopping bags last year, some wonderful things happened.

Our streets, roads, interstate highways and fields were spared the disfiguration of plastic debris blowing all over them. Our landfills were relieved of having to contain material that could take centuries to decompose.

Our oceans were set on a path where they could have this awful congestion of waste material removed eventually instead of accumulating further. And the residents of the ocean could have a future in which they could avoid the prospect of ingesting these plastic killers.

Remember the scenes in Frank Capra’s classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” in which Jimmy Stewart’s character is encouraged to join his friend Sam for “the chance of a lifetime” in the brand new plastics industry? In the 1940s, plastics were a true representation of forward-thinking prosperity because, in its seemingly infinite forms, it could replace metal, wood and other building materials with quick, cheap alternatives.

Little did anyone know then what an inescapable burden humans were imposing on themselves. Soon, plastics were everywhere and in everything. But by the 21st century, we had come to realize what we had done to ourselves.

Now, we are frantically trying to undo our grievous embrace of plastics that had so beguiled the World War II generation. Plastic bags are a great example of that effort.

In 2014, California became the first state to outlaw the use of plastic bags for the conveyance of groceries and other purchases. New York has joined seven other states in legislating bans on those single-use bags. What has been the cost in terms of inconvenience?

It is not unsurmountable. We are getting used to carrying with us reusable, sturdier bags when we go to the store. Or we use paper bags, which biodegrade far faster than plastic.

How much faster? It depends on whom you ask.

Some scientists say plastic bags will take centuries to break down in landfills, whereas paper can take as little as five to 10 years. Others say it all depends on the makeup and process in effect at the landfill, and the difference isn’t quite that dramatic.

But there is no disputing that plastics are the most villainous of possibilities, by far. Anyone who has paid attention has a true picture of the mounting harm plastics represent to ocean life.

How difficult has it been to transition to permanent, reusable bags on our shopping trips? Not at all. The only question we need to ask is, what took us so long?

Some people can routinely be seen taking their purchased groceries, piled in carts, out to their cars in the parking lots. There, the groceries are transferred from cart to car for the ride home. No bags at all are used.

If only solutions to all of our environmental problems could be so easily found and implemented. But let’s all board the climate change express and arrive at our destination sooner.

© 2021 Press-Republican

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