Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Plastic bags can be reused

As our local food co-op continues its development, I watch with interest knowing that it will likely deal with some of the same issues other cooperatives have addressed.

My family has an owner-membership in the Ashland Food Cooperative that operates in Ashland, Ore. One of the ideas proposed by a group of owners is to request a 10-cent contribution for all new large paper or plastic grocery bags.

I greatly prefer this suggestion to the ban on plastic bags that is being proposed in Mendocino County. I understand the importance of diverting plastic from our landfills but think a surcharge may be a better method.

Plastic bags are freely available right now so people are used to the mindset that they are things of no consequence that can be carelessly discarded. There are always plenty more plastic bags at the neighborhood checkout stand. Environmental impacts are simply not thought about.

Some of us, however, put plastic bags to reuse by lining our kitchen wastebaskets or home-office paper shredders. Plastic grocery bags are great -- and are very necessary -- for securing other plastic bags like bread or vegetable wrappers.

Lightweight recyclables like paper and plastic need to be secured, “single-stream” recycling notwithstanding. I wouldn’t dream of throwing them loose into our curbside recycling bins because I’ve seen our franchise hauler driving down the highway with the truck hatch left open and I’ve seen plastic bags and paper fly right out.

As long as our franchise haulers neglect to “tarp their loads,” I will need some sort of container to secure my lightweight recyclables. So if plastic bags are banned at the checkout stand, I will still have to buy wastebasket liners. I will have to substitute one source of plastic for another.

But imagine the positive impact that a plastic-bag surcharge could have!

People who reuse plastic would be able to purchase a commodity that they already need and use. And because plastic grocery bags are most likely shipped in bulk, they would use much less packaging than the equivalent amount of wastebasket bags arranged into 40-count packages for individual consumers.

A 10-cent surcharge like the one proposed in Ashland, Ore. would reflect the bags’ environmental cost and make them into things of value. Consumers would have an increased incentive to bring reusable bags from home if they don’t want to pay the charge. And they might also gain an incentive to “get their money’s worth” if they have to pay for plastic. It could lead to a whole new mindset.

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