Bill Schubart: It’s time to ban plastic bags

By Bill Schubart

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 T-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.

Bill Schubart is an author and lives in Hinesburg. His most recent work of fiction is Lila & Theron.

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  1. Kathy Vize says:

    January 2018: Suffolk County, on Long Island NY began implementation of a five cent fee for every plastic and paper bag used during a sale. There were a few exceptions such as prescription bags. In 1 short year, there has been a significant reduction in plastic and paper bag use. We don’t see stray bags blown into trees or half – buried on the beaches. It was a win.

    Most recently, a voluntary ban on plastic straws is working its way through eateries in popular tourist towns.

    All of us can refuse plastic utensils when we order take out.

    They may be small steps, but they are changing habits and mindsets to help the environment.

  2. Philip Atwood says:

    While we are at the crusades to save our planet why not ban other items made of plastic,
    such as Keurig cups ( or require that they be made bio-degradable), plastic diapers, plastic
    straws, all food and liquid containers. Plastic food and drink containers emit a form of estrogen
    which may have long term effects on our health anyway.

    This will be an uphill battle as the reason plastic is so prevalent is that it is so convenient and
    cheaper to produce than glass or paper.

    How we will convince other nations to stop using the oceans as a dump or open sewer is a
    question for another day.

  3. Barre Pinske says:

    Banning ocean dumping world wide and encouraging shredding all trash is a more realistic solution than banning in Vermont. People with these real environmental concerns can shred their trash at home if they are willing to make the investment. Recycling is not a great answer because not all things are like aluminum which melted and recast as the same thing. Some plastics are like an egg once cooked it can’t be returned back to what it was and needs a new use often with out the same demand. Shredding all trash minus battieries and other hazards to a very small particle could give these inert wastes an easy tradition back to the earth, used in potting soils and or to be stored in a land full until there is a time we need them more. Like many environmental problems the causes are not stemming in Vermont for example we are a carbon neutral State because of all the forests and our electricity is 90 renewable primarily because it bought from Canada hydro.

  4. Matt Gorsky says:

    I agree with you Bill. We did fine before the introduction of plastic bags, we can easily go back to not using them … and get paper bags for book covers again 😉

    Otherwise, cloth bags are the way to go.