Green Needham was invited to participate in the weekly Boston Globe West column, The Argument. The column features two sides of the argument on a topic of current interest in one of the Metrowest towns covered by Globe West.
Rob Fernandez, Green Needham’s Plastic Bag Ban Team Chair, took the “yes” position. You can read Rob’s submission below, and online at Globe West or in your Sunday Globe on December 17th. If you go online, please leave a comment to vote in the Globe’s poll.
Eliminating retail single-use plastic bags in Needham
Single-use plastic shopping bags have several attributes that retailers find useful. They are inexpensive, easy to store, and convenient for carrying a variety of products. But the benefits have led to their overuse. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 1 trillion single-use plastic bags are used every year globally. Closer to home, Boston shoppers consume 357 million plastic bags annually. In Needham, just one national chain store goes through 6,000 plastic bags a week, based on a local survey.
Perhaps there would be no debating their value if they were widely recycled. But they are not. Of the 1 trillion used every year, only 5% are recycled. Once discarded, plastic bags pollute the environment as they are not biodegradable. They can be found on city streets, in tree branches, and are washed into the ocean where they can be lethal for marine animals when mistaken for food. Plastic bags also represent a financial obligation for communities. Before voters in California passed the first state-wide ban in 2016, efforts to clean up single use plastic bags cost taxpayers an estimated $400 million per year.
A solution to the waste created by plastic bags is to stop using them, a decision that fifty-nine cities and towns in Massachusetts, two US states and thirty countries have made. The fact that there are alternatives makes the decision easier. Reusable bags are effective and are becoming a more popular choice among shoppers due to their durability, and paper bags are recyclable.
The benefits of eliminating the use of single-use plastic shopping bags are many. Pollution from litter is cut. As an example, volunteers in Monterey County, CA found only 43 plastic bags during a recent clean-up as compared to 2,494 in 2010, before the county and state-wide bans. Non-renewable fossil fuel consumption is reduced, as plastic bags are made from oil and gas. Additionally, plastic bags mistakenly placed with other recyclables can clog sorting machinery. That adds costs, exposes recycling workers to injuries, and possibly causing an entire load of recyclables to be landfilled or burned.
Therefore, in collaboration and support of local businesses, we strongly support ending the use of single-use plastic bags in Needham. As Matt O’Malley, Boston City Councilor, recently said, “Plastic bags are only used for an average of 12 minutes, but their impact on the city’s streets and drains is permanent.”