Tossing a bad habit

Plastics bags stand ready for customers to use at the self check-out aisle inside the Tops on Washington Street in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Come March 1, the phrase “Paper or plastic?” will be completely obsolete.

Supermarkets and drug stores made wide use of paper bags decades ago as a convenience for their customers. Items could be easily transported home, and families often found other uses for the bags later on.

But in the 1970s, plastic bags became a popular alternative to paper bags. They were cheaper for merchants to buy and more durable for shoppers to use. When carrying groceries out to a car in the pouring rain, plastic holds up much better.

For a while, patrons were offered the choice of which kind of bag they wanted clerks to use. And if there’s one thing American consumers like, it’s choice.

And over time, they chose plastic. Paper bags eventually faded away.

However, plastic bags came with their own baggage. Smaller bags have a way of cluttering up trees, front yards, parking lots and sewer systems.

What’s worse, they have become a visible symbol of the damage done to oceans worldwide by plastic. Sea creatures frequently ingest plastic items, which could lead to their death.

Many forms of plastic also are not biodegradable. Some will sit in landfills forever.

It’s tempting, then, to say we should return to using paper bags. They may be a bit pricier, but they don’t pose the challenge that plastic bags do to the environment.

Actually, that’s not true. According to information on the website The Truth About Paper Bags, conditions in landfills often thwart certain types of paper from breaking down. The website reports that “while paper breaks down much faster under ideal conditions, landfills are not ideal conditions. The lack of light, air and oxygen means pretty much nothing decomposes, so paper and plastic are destined to spend equal amounts of time there.”

After next week, most retailers will no longer be allowed to offer single-use plastic bags. The state Legislature last year passed a law banning them. It will take effect March 1.

Of course, the more prudent move is for shoppers to bring reusable bags with them. The most popular are the canvas bags, which are conveniently sold at numerous stores.

Any kind of similar reusable bag will be helpful. Have you ever received a tote bag from PBS or NPR?

Pack it in the car for your trip to buy groceries.

The good news is that free reusable bags will be given away this week in Watertown.

“Shoppers can obtain free reusable bags from staff from the Development Authority of the North Country on Wednesday at the Salmon Run Mall,” according to a story published Sunday in the Watertown Daily Times. “The development authority will offer free reusable bags starting at 10 a.m. in an effort to help consumers transition when the statewide ban on disposable plastic bags from stores takes [effect] March 1. The ban prohibits most retailers from offering lightweight film plastic bags to customers, although some exceptions apply.”

The key for all of us to make this transition proceed as smoothly as possible is to change our frame of mind. We must begin considering how everything we do affects the environment. We leave a huge carbon footprint on the planet, and this has the potential of hurting all the living creatures that depend on it — and this includes us!

It is good that DANC will give away free reusable bags Wednesday at Salmon Run Mall, and we encourage people to take advantage of this offer. Let’s start preparing for this lifestyle change and the many others necessary to become more eco-friendly.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(2) comments

rdsouth

Cloth laundry bags are good for this too. But I'm guessing stores will roll out paper bags right away. They haven't done so yet because they're trying to use up existing stock. Presumably the existing stock of plastic bags could be repackaged in boxes and sold as "garbage bags." But personally I just put my goods back in the cart. I have a plastic bin in the bed of my small pickup and just transfer my goods straight from the cart to the bin, then carry the bin into the house. It's actually easier than messing with any kind of bag. When it's raining I just put stuff in through the passenger window and place it on the passenger seat, or the floor in front of it, then transfer from that to a bin on the ground under the door when I get home. Sure, the bins are plastic, but they're multipurpose and multiple use. A cardboard box will do the same thing, but doesn't necessarily have the handy handles.

MD

Never thought of the bin idea, good on you RDSOUTH>

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