Plastic bags: The cost, destination, ban

Elyssa Rubin, Staff Writer

Stores switch to paper bags

You go to the store, and with your purchase, you take home a disposable plastic bag. These bags manage to find their way to landfills and even oceans, causing harm to wildlife. As a result, cities, towns, and counties are banning plastic bags. Stores where plastic bags are banned no longer offer them and are even offering incentives to those who bring their own reusable bags.

According to Trevor Nace’s article for Forbes “Here’s A List Of Every City In The US To Ban Plastic Bags, Will Your City Be Next?”, eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year.

According to The Atlantic’s article “How the Plastic Bag Became So Popular”, most stores started switching to plastic bags from paper in the 1980’s because of cost benefits.

“When I was a kid, we didn’t have plastic bags,” Environmental Science teacher and Green Earth Club adviser Christina Connolly said. “I remember we only had paper bags.”

Stores, depending on their location, are encouraging patrons to bring their own reusable bags and have stopped using plastic bags.

Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic bag ban regulations can vary depending on the town, city, or county. Their purpose is to help reduce the amount of plastic by preventing the distribution of plastic bags and putting fees on bags: paper, plastic, or reusable with the hope that shoppers will start bringing their own reusable bags.

According to Surfrider Foundation’s article “Plastic Bag Bans and Fees,” San Francisco, California was the first city in the nation to ban plastic shopping bags in April of 2007.

According to Trevor Nace’s article for Forbes “Here’s A List Of Every City In The US To Ban Plastic Bags, Will Your City Be Next?” nearby Massachusetts towns such as Natick, Shrewsbury and Westborough have begun banning plastic bags and set fees on bags.

Northborough and Southborough currently don’t have the ban. However, Northborough will be voting to implement the ban for 2020.

Northborough’s 2019 Annual Town Meeting Warrant Article 36 is proposed by Jeanne Cahill, Sravya Tanikella and Sustainable Northborough. If passed, the article would implement a plastic bag reduction bylaw by January 1, 2020, prohibiting single use plastic bags. This bylaw requires that if any retail stores in the town of Northborough provide checkout bags to customers, it must be either be a recyclable paper bag, compostable plastic bag, or a reusable checkout bag.

According to Joseph Kiprop’s article for Worldatlas “Which Countries Have Banned Plastic Bags?” many countries across the world including China, Haiti and Mexico have already passed this ban.

The biggest obstacle to the shift away from plastic bags is that consumers expect stores to provide them with bags. It’s become such a habit that we don’t feel the need to bring our own.

“We expect too much convenience in the world,” Environmental Science teacher Kenneth Wieder said. “It’s polluting the world to a large extent.”

Connolly supports the plastic bag ban, considering plastic pollutes and is full of chemicals.

“[Paper bags reduce] the amount of plastic we have in the world, which is not biodegradable,” Connolly said.

“The paper will decompose and won’t be around forever,” Connolly said.

According to Green Earth Club co-leader and sophomore Nick Haugen, the ban will help prevent significant future problems.

“It’ll force people to stop using plastic instead of just suggesting it because the way that plastic is used today is leading to a really big problem,” Nick Haugen said.

“It’ll make a definite difference,” Nick Haugen said.

Green Earth Club member and sophomore Tom Haugen thinks that we should focus on solving the minor problems such as the widespread use of disposable utensils and straws.

“Plastic isn’t… coming from a direct source,” Tom Haugen said. “It’s not all stemming from one place.”

Representative of the Interact club and sophomore Sravya Tanikella is working with the Sustainable Northborough Town Committee to try to pass the plastic bag ban proposed in the 2019 Annual Town Meeting Warrant.

According to Tanikella, Sustainable Northborough is currently doing a citizens petition ban against plastic bags and styrofoam in which they need over ten signatures before they can submit it to the town office.

“If this were to go through the town, by 2020, Northborough would be rid of plastic bags and styrofoam,” Tanikella said.

“Since we are not under school policy, our efforts are not restricted and [therefore] we have a better outreach to the real world [and] community,” Tanikella said.

Some members of the Interact Club from Algonquin have also been helping Sustainable Northborough by spreading awareness and creating flyers and brochures: Vice President and sophomore Andrew Yang, Secretary and freshman Cynthia Rajeshkanna, sophomore Andrew Caracciolo, sophomore Jared Caracciolo, sophomore Clara Moulin, sophomore Zayim Jamil, sophomore Megan Harrington, sophomore Sofia Abdullina, sophomore Sarah Crawford, sophomore Maryam Ahmed, sophomore David Gillingham, and sophomore Emily Wu.

Tanikella is very passionate about protecting nature.

“By the time I’m 50, I don’t want the world around me to be destroyed and damaged,” Tanikella said. “I started this initiative last year [2018], but I’m hoping to see it through this year [2019] because this will make a difference.”

Paper vs Plastic

According to Connolly, when given the choice between paper and plastic, though neither is great, paper is the better option.

You have the power to tell the cashier which type of bag you want even if your preference isn’t presented.

“The plastic bags in… stores are just absolutely terrible [and] there’s so many of them,” Green Earth Club co-leader and sophomore Ben Westphal said. “They just end up on the ground or in… trash cans.”

According to The Environmental Literacy Council’s article “Paper or Plastic?”, plastic bags are a threat to marine life. If swallowed, they can block the animals’ stomachs causing them to starve.

“[Plastic bags are] bad for the animals,” horticulture teacher Zbigniewa Giegucz said. “It just goes to waste.”

According to Nace’s article, plastic bags can take anywhere from ten years to one thousand years to decompose depending on the environmental conditions.

Reusable Bags & Plastic-Free

Though paper bags are a better option, reusable bags are the best choice for the environment. Numerous stores have already begun selling their own reusable bags, and consumers can always bring bags with them while shopping.

“More towns should go to bring-your-own bags or switch over to paper,” Giegucz said. “If they did that, I think people would do it.”

According to Money Talks News article “7 Stores That Pay You To Bring a Reusable Bag,” you can even be rewarded for using reusable bags in stores such as Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Ralphs, Lowes Foods, Sprouts Farmers Market, or Foodland, depending on location.

“One thing that some stores do is give you an incentive for using a reusable bag,” Connolly said. “They might give you like five cents off if you have a reusable bag.”

There are many different approaches that we can take to reduce the plastic problem.

Environmental Science teacher Lori Mott believes we need to go plastic bag free.

“Mandating that we don’t have plastic is a start,” Mott said. “If we have [plastic bags], people are going to use them because they’re convenient.”

According to Wieder, the disposable bags we receive at the store should come at a cost.

“I think people should pay for [disposable bags],” Wieder said. “If we’re going to have them, they should cost enough where people think twice about taking them.”

When we take home disposable bags, Westphal believes we need to think about how they affect our environment long term.

“The biggest thing for solving the [plastic bag] problem is for people to actually understand what they’re doing everytime they use a plastic bag and how much the effect, if millions are buying plastic bags, can have on the environment,” Westphal said. “The best way to help solve it would be for people to actually think before they just pick up a plastic bag.”

According to Mott, the switch from plastic to paper is possible if we can band together.

“We have to go full in and where there’s lack of a choice… choose the better of two evils,” Mott said. “We can make that change.”

What Can Algonquin Do?

According to Mott, as leaders of the new generation, we have a lot to offer our community. We’re given so much power that we take little advantage of.

“You do have power,” Mott said. “Students can have power if you.. band together… [and] you’re really passionate about the issue.

According to Westphal, we need to start making people aware of what they’re doing.

“I think awareness is the biggest problem here,” Westphal said. “We need to actually make people start to think and realize what they’re doing.”

Another step students can take is speaking to town leaders and community members about the plastic bag ban.

“We live in a district where our towns don’t have plastic bans,” Mott said. “If we wanted to go at more of a community level,…part of [our environmental classes and club’s] outreach could be trying to make people aware of not using either [and] they could speak to decision makers for the town.”

According to Nick Haugen, Algonquin should be focusing on the recycling bins.

“We should implement a lot…more recycling bins open to the public,” Nick Haugen said. “We should definitely differentiate single stream from trash because it’s not an obvious difference.”

Not only should students advocate for the switch from plastic to paper or reusable, but they should also make this change in their own lives.

“When students go shopping, I think they should bring their own [reusable bags],” Giegucz said. “I think students should talk to parents and guardians [about this environmental issue].”

According to Tanikella, even though Northborough is a small town, we can still make a change. People need to do something about this issue.

“The reason I took this up is because if someone doesn’t do something, who will?”, Tanikella said.

“Awareness is key to making a change,” Tanikella said.