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If informed, many consumers would stop using plastic bags

Staff Report • Jun 4, 2012 at 8:20 AM

The author of a recent letter to Forum suggested Johnson City follow the lead of the Los Angeles City Council in banning the use of plastic bags at grocery stores. C.E. Sherrod noted that because Johnson City claims to be a “progressive city with forward-looking ideas and goals,” it should do the same.

We agree with Sherrod when it comes to the leadership role the city of Johnson City has taken on “green issues,” such as recycling and alternative energy. We also agree that plastic bags are harmful to the environment, but we don’t think city residents are ready for an outright ban on plastic bags.

We would suggest using a carrot before applying a stick. We think the city should partner with local supermarkets and convenience stores to educate consumers on their options to using plastic bags.

More importantly, local residents need to learn why using those plastic bags are so bad for the environment. Plastic bags don’t just go away. They have a 500-year life span, which means they will take up space in landfills for generations to come.

That’s why Los Angeles and areas of Europe are taking steps to either ban plastic bags outright or to reduce their use. The Republic of Ireland levies a tax on plastic bags that has resulted in a 95 percent reduction in their use. Just about everyone in Ireland now carries their own reusable bags with them to the market.

Reusable shopping bags are the environmentally friendly alternative to both paper and plastic bags. They are a particularly effective way of reducing the number of plastic bags that have become a large part of the unsightly litter that spoils our landscape.

The Sierra Club says paper bags are easier to recycle (for example, Johnson City asks residents to place their recycled newspapers in paper, not plastic, bags for recycling). Officials with the Sierra Club, however, prefer shoppers use reusable bags when they go to the grocery store. That’s an excellent idea.

Before deciding to levy fees to shape behavior, local government and business leaders should use public awareness campaigns to encourage consumers to reduce their use of plastic bags and to recycle bags they do use. Most major supermarket chains now offer affordable reusable bags, as well as provide an opportunity for customers to recycle their old plastic bags.

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