July 27, 2008 7:37 AM

Sometimes we all need to be pushed to change

The next thing you might hear at the cash register is: "Paper or plastic? That'll be extra.".... On the heels of San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles, Portland may impose a fee on grocery bags by next year to reduce waste and encourage people to shop with reusable sacks.... "It's a simple behavioral change that we have to ingrain in ourselves," said City Commissioner Sam Adams. He first brought up the idea more than a year ago and now is pushing for a City Council vote, but hasn't decided how much to charge: He's discussing anywhere from 5 cents to 20 cents per bag. The switch would represent a big lifestyle change for consumers, Adams acknowledged. They'll have to remember to bring their own bags or risk the fee, but he said many people already carry cloth bags in keeping with Portland's "green values.".... "This is a totally avoidable fee," he said.

It was bound to happen eventually, especially in a city renowned for being so green. Yes, kids, Portland may ban or begin to charge for plastic and/or paper bags at grocery stores. Call it the hand of Big Government if you must, but you can't say you didn't see this one coming a mile away. Think about it; something like a bazillion plastic grocery bags end up in landfills every year...and they only take about a thousand years to biodegrade. Meanwhile, there's a simple solution available- reusable cloth bags, which are available just about everywhere now for perhaps a buck apiece. I have three that I got at a Whole Foods Market for $.99 each...and yet how often do I use them? Generally speaking, they sit unused on the back seat of my car while I continue to haul my groceries in plastic bags. (Sounds like someone needs a swift kick in the ass, no??)

I know...I'm a bad person....

When you get right down to it, there's absolutely no reason to continue using plastic bags. Oh, I'm probably a bit different those most folks in that more of mine are reused, but that's just because of a personal quirk. I HATE the smell of decaying organic matter, so I keep it in my freezer until I'm ready to take out to the garbage bin. The plastic sacks are perfect for this, but I imagine I could find workable substitute if I was forced to. No, this is really all about changing behavior, and the reality is that plastic sacks are about as environmentally unfriendly as one could possibly imagine. There has got to be a better way....

Even though both paper and plastic bags are recyclable, both present environmental problems.

Only 52 percent of the paper and 5 percent of plastic grocery bags given out in the United States are recycled, said Stephanie Barger, executive director of the Earth Resources Foundation in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Plastic bags are made from oil. They don't biodegrade and are considered a serious litter problem because they're lightweight and blow around. They also kill marine mammals who mistake them for food.

Grocery stores collect the bags and send them to be made into plastic "lumber" or flower pots -- Portland doesn't allow them in the city's new blue recycling carts because they gum up the machinery used to sort recycling.

Paper bags easily decompose, but it takes trees to make them. They're also heavier than plastic, so for every truckload of plastic bags shipped to a grocery store, it takes three trucks to ship the same number of paper bags, said Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, a lobbying group working on the issue.

"It's consumption without thinking of the resources we're taking and the impact we're having on our planet and our future," Barger said. "If you have a reusable bag, you've eliminated that waste of energy in transporting that bag all over the place."

Gilliam, who represents most major and some smaller grocery chains, said they'll support some kind of bag fee program as long as they can help shape it because they'll have to enforce it.

When you think about it, incenting people to employ reusable grocery sacks can only be a good thing. If we can keep even a small portion of those gazillion plastic bags out of our landfills, that will go a long ways towards making our world a better place, don't you think. Yes, there are those who will resent that it's government forcing this step upon us, but what other entity is in a position to enforce this sort of behavior modification?

If we're serious about living green and reducing our carbon footprint, the cumulative impact won't be felt through grand, sweeping gestures or sacrifices. No, the true impact will be in the accumulation of "small" steps, things living using cloth grocery bags instead of paper or plastic. If government has to negatively incent us in order to get the ball rolling, then I can work with that. Sometimes government is the only institution with the moral and/or legal wherewithal to create and enforce change...and it's not as if giving up paper and plastic is going to present us with a huge incovenience. It's a matter of changing behavior. Period.

Now if I could just remember to get those cloth bags out of the back seat of my car....

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on July 27, 2008 7:37 AM.

Ooops...looks like someone's secret is out of the box.... was the previous entry in this blog.

Uh, yeah...I'd watch that.... is the next entry in this blog.

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