– by Ed Weisberg
Instituting bans on carry-out plastic bans is becoming somewhat of a bandwagon trend in certain coastal communities. The intention of these bans is clear: Despite laws against littering, people are concerned about the amount of plastic bags that are carelessly strewn about, creating a blight on the environment and danger to marine and wildlife. Like most instances of the bandwagon effect, this trend may spin out of control until a rational solution is “discovered”. Alas, a better alternative solution does exist! As we’ve discussed in this blog previously, if retailers were to provide ECOgrade photodegradable bags, which use less resin than plastic bags, less energy than paper, plastic, or the manufacture of most reusable bags, can be recycled, and degrade from exposure to sunlight if littered, the specific issues that are driving this movement would be solved. But there is education that must be conveyed to make governmental and environmental organizations aware of the solution and its benefits.
I recently attended the town council meeting in Barrington RI, in which a bag ban was discussed and passed on a trial basis. In this blog, and perhaps in follow-up entries as the repercussions of the ban evolve, I will illustrate a case study on how this ban came to be, some of the reasoning behind it, how it was passed, and how it may evolve in the community.
In a written statement which she read in the town council meeting, Town Councilor Kate Weymouth explained why she helped initiate the legislation based on her personal experience. The effort began when Environment Rhode Island, an environmental advocacy group, canvassed some 400 residents and 14 businesses to propose a plastic bag ban as a solution for pollution. Councilor Weymouth said that at first, she did not pay much attention to the initiative. But subsequently, she became concerned when she saw photos of dead birds that had swallowed bags, and thought about bags being littered into the bay. Therefore she took the initiative to propose and accelerate this ordinance.
The debate in the town council meeting was quite robust, with arguments on both sides of the proposal. GXT Green spoke up and raised the alternative of ECOgrade bags as an option. Several people enquired why this ordinance was being pushed through so quickly, without spending the time to study alternatives and repercussions of such a law. The ordinance grew from concept to a vote in about three months, as compared to other pressing issues that had been debated and studied for several years. People suggested that the council should spend more time researching the effect on the community, how it might inconvenience shoppers and hurt the local economy, as well as look at alternatives such as ECOgrade bags to see if a ban is really the best solution before making a final decision. Emotions ran high. In the end, one council member dissented on the vote due to serious concerns. Councilman Bill Dewitt argued that “At the end of the day, I don’t know if we’re solving the problem or just changing the problem,” He stated that the ordinance was poorly written to actually achieve the stated goals. For example, he explained that the ordinance said that as long as plastic bags are not placed specifically at the cash register then they are allowed to be used. He pointed out the fact that by banning plastic they were encouraging the use of bags that are actually more environmentally damaging (paper bags and reusable bags, often made in polluting Chinese factories), and the end result on the environment could be worse. Although the ban was passed by the council for a two year trial, it is not clear how it will be enforced. And the debate continues. A poll conducted by the Barrington RI Patch found that more than 3 out of 4 voters polled in Barrington prefer to have a choice of paper, plastic or reusable bags.
As a follow up to the meeting, Council President June Speakman suggested to GXT Green that we speak to members of the business community, namely Shaw’s Supermarket, CVS, Ace Hardware, and the president of the local business committee. She recommended that we educate them on ECOgrade bags, and see whether use of these bags would be advantageous to them. Both Shaw’s and ACE Hardware told us that they had initially agreed to eliminate plastic checkout bags in their stores in advance of the vote, since they believed the law was a fait accompli. All of them were thrilled to learn about ECOgrade bags, and felt that they would provide a perfect alternative solution if allowed. The manager at Shaw’s took samples to present to his district manager. The owner of ACE Hardware even offered to hand the bags out in his store for the next few months to get customer reaction. We also followed up with Bill Dewitt, the dissenting town council member. Bill still believes that this ban was the wrong approach to solving the litter problem. He also wants the town to consider ECOgrade bags as a better solution. As we explained to the council, a ban:
- Is inconvenient to consumers
- Hurts local grocers by driving shoppers to other towns that allow plastic bags
- Does not solve the problem as plastic bags from neighboring communities will replace the in town reduction of plastic bags as more and more consumers shop outside the community
- Can drive adoption of solutions that are worse for the environment
- Is unnecessary if a non-toxic photodegradable solution can be provided
- Increases cost to the community to legislate and enforce the ban
ECOgrade bags address the concerns of the community without the costs and inconvenience associated with blanket bans.
Clearly, education is a better solution than instituting new laws. There are better solutions to bag pollution than bag bans. Education about the importance of not littering, recycling, and alternative solutions such as ECOgrade photodegradable bags would all be elements of Barrington truly being progressive in attacking bag pollution. We expect that the continued discussion, the positive reaction of local businesses, and the efforts of interested members of the community will help Barrington attain the progressive status to which they aspire. We will keep you informed as the situation evolves. To join our mailing list for updates, please click here.
ECOgrade bags recently won the prestigious Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) “2012 Consumer Product of the Year” Award. Thank you for your support!
-Edward Weisberg is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, GXT Green