Some people may be wondering why anyone would want to put a five cent fee on single use plastic and paper bags. The answer is that these bags present a serious waste problem. It takes resources and energy to produce them, and often they are tossed away immediately. Where is “away?” Carried to a landfill, stuck in trees or blowing around the landscape, drifting down streams and rivers into oceans. The problem is, bags in a landfill never biodegrade. Over a long period of time, plastics can break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they never biodegrade. Even paper bags in a landfill will not biodegrade because they are compressed and not exposed to sunlight and air.
Why not just recycle them? The problem is economic. There is no market for recycling plastic bags, as it is cheaper to just start with raw products again. Approximately 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled, not nearly enough to make a difference.
In rivers and oceans and on land, plastic bags pose hazards to animals that may become entangled in them or mistake them for food. Or, once plastic bags break down in rivers and oceans, they become tiny, toxic particles that attract even more toxic materials from the water. These little particles can be ingested by fish (which may wind up on our dinner plates, complete with their toxins).
Putting a fee on these bags is in essence acknowledging the cost of the problems they cause. It’s also an incentive for us to be less wasteful and more creative in our habits. Many of us have reusable bags that we’ve purchased or received as gifts from events or organizations. Inexpensive reusable bags are available at the supermarkets. Why not simply keep some in our cars or by the door and take them with us when we shop? Why not find alternatives to the other ways we use plastic bags? For innovative ideas, see www.byobag.sustainablewarwick.org.
I can remember the days before these single use bags were everywhere. We managed to shop. We managed to handle our garbage. Many other communities have created bag fees that have been successful in reducing this problem waste. I’d like to see Warwick do its part.