Banning plastic shopping bags of the sort you get at the food store will solve one problem; specifically, what to do with them when you get them home and unpack the groceries. Southampton Village recently outlawed the bags and now East Hampton Village officials are considering doing the same. From its beginnings in San Francisco and Ireland, a national and international movement to curtail the use of the bags has been spreading.
Advocates of bans say that the one-time-use petroleum-based bags are a wasteful use of nonrenewable resources and unnecessarily fill up landfills. They can end up in surface waters with harmful effects on marine life. In the environment nonbiodegradable bags and other plastic objects slowly degrade into small particles that can attract toxic chemicals and be consumed by wildlife. Fish in particular that are contaminated in this way can be a pathway by which toxins can enter the food chain, in some cases ending up in humans. Nationwide, only about 5 or 6 percent of them are recycled, according to federal estimates. Paper bags can be made from recycled materials.
Plastic bag manufacturers have counterattacked, saying that reusable bags can be a source of harmful microbes. Some libertarian-minded people have said that government should not infringe on the rights of the people to bear plastic. Others have questioned whether a patchwork of localities banning the bags would withstand a Constitutional challenge.
Surprisingly, perhaps, opposition from retailers has been limited, from what we have seen. This may be in part due to many of them seeing an opportunity to cut costs by not buying thousands upon thousands of bags. At the same time, some may see opportunities at the checkout counter to sell reusable bags, particularly those that carry the company’s logo.
East Hampton Village’s continuing efforts to go “green” should be commended.