On Nov. 6, voters in Waterville will have the opportunity to ban the single-use carry-out plastic grocery bag in big-box stores. Carry-out plastic bags are given away free at most checkouts, but it’s our environment that really pays. Plastic bags don’t compost. Instead, they become permanent pollution, often ending up in the stomachs of land animals and sea creatures. Frequently, these bags can be seen dangling from tree branches, and they contribute to the costs of disposing of our city trash.
While only a small percentage of plastic shopping bags get recycled, those that are often become tangled up in equipment at recycling plants, causing machinery to shut down. Ecomaine, the largest recycler in Maine and where Waterville sends its recycling, simply won’t take plastic shopping bags. The obvious solution to me is to simply stop making the plastic bags in the first place.
If we as responsible Americans don’t want to contribute to plastic pollution and unnecessary city trash, we can start using reusable shopping bags. This is not an original idea. Cities all across America have already banned plastic bags, and I don’t see them suffering because of it. In France, the country as a whole has banned them; this is something we can do.
A ban on carry-out plastic bags from big-box stores over 10,000 square feet is necessary. At every supermarket checkout counter in Waterville, inexpensive, reusable shopping bags are for sale. Reusable shopping bags are more durable and you can carry more in them, and they can easily go into the washing machine when necessary. (Just to be clear, we are talking about carry-out shopping bags with handles, not the bags that are used for produce, meats or fish. And paper bags would still be available for free.)
We understand that some shoppers oppose the ordinance because they like the convenience of plastic bags. Some would call this unnecessary government interference. But certain rules and regulations are necessary. We don’t want people to remove their car mufflers because their car might perform better, we don’t want to put lead back in paint because it helps the paint to dry faster. Certainly, we shouldn’t be allowed to insulate our homes with asbestos because it’s cheap.
Our actions have social and environmental consequences. As a society, there are some things we cannot allow. I realize these examples are extreme, but global plastic pollution is a serious concern.
You can be certain that the plastics industry would oppose this type of ordinance as they have elsewhere because of the money they might lose. They want you to throw away those bags so they can sell the stores more; Hannaford pays $32 for a box of 2,000 bags. We should never allow money interests to rule us at the expense of a healthy environment.
Whether you’re a hunter, fisherman, environmentalist, stay-at-home parent or simply a concerned resident, we need to remember that we all inhabit the same space. We must take seriously our role as the custodians of Earth. It’s all we have.
The city of Waterville, or any city for that matter, could simply do the right thing for the environment, cut down on trash and save itself some money by passing this ordinance. Small stores and restaurants would be exempt from the ordinance because most of the problem comes from the big-box stores that are over 10,000 square feet in size. Please visit our website to learn more: www.bringyourownbag.info
Right now, as residents of Waterville, we should consider taking the environment seriously and putting aside the small inconvenience we might initially experience by getting rid of plastic carry-out bags. Let’s do the right thing, as 15 other Maine communities have already done — we can be certain that other communities will follow. If our ordinance passes, businesses would have six months to make the change to reusable bags, as this will take effect on Earth Day, April 22, 2019.
On Nov. 6, please vote yes on municipal referendum 1.
Stu Silverstein is a member of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team. He lives in Waterville.