Town Meeting: It’s Time to Ban Plastic Bags

All of the plastic manufactured since Bakelite debuted during the Depression still litters the earth. The world is choking on an invention that’s barely a century old.

Today, shoppers worldwide use 500 billion single-use plastic bags a year or a million bags a minute. A million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die annually from plastic entanglements and these are just the ones we find. There are about 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean. Fleece particles are appearing in the flesh of Atlantic fish.

In this era of urbanization and globalization many of the most serious threats to our communities often seem beyond solving at the local level. But each one of us stands at the center of a sphere of influence, with the potential to spark great change: from family, neighborhood, and town, to state, nation and beyond. Individual philosophers, artists, politicians and small but effective communities have indeed altered history – so we shouldn’t be dissuaded by our apparent size.

In fact, Vermont has led in many areas. Respect for our environment began appearing in legislation with Act 250 almost 50 years ago. But we’re just catching up in others.

Just one short month from now, neighbors will again assemble to discuss and decide on budgets and issues facing their towns at Town Meeting. And one item being debated in some towns will be the banning of plastic bags from retail distribution.

There will be dissent from the VT Retail Grocers’ Association and soft drink distributors will keep running ads about how much they care about closed-loop recycling but in this case, local action seems both necessary and justified.

Paper bags are recyclable. Anyone can get a free cloth or net shopping bag. And church and youth groups have been making effective shopping bags from old tee shirts.

It seems clear to me that for the sake of our oceans, our future, and our kids’ future, we must ban plastic bags and make all food containers recyclable.

Besides, it’s both heavily ironic and ethically contradictory for anyone to carry organic fruit and vegetables home from the grocery store in multiple plastic bags.