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Bag It, Duluth's view: Get unstuck: Think, act differently for love of place

The News Tribune's Jan. 11 editorial, "Get ready to battle over bags," highlighted some of the issues around the Bag It Duluth Campaign for a city ordinance to promote reusable carry-out shopping bags and environmentally preferable to-go containers.

Rather than a "battle," it may be helpful to think of this as another time for deep soul-searching and reflection about our values as a community, our relationship with our environment, and how we envision the future.

Our city is recognized as a national leader for its support and promotion of active living and the outdoor environment. We share an unspoken feeling about its sacred beauty, a love of place, a connection to the gift at our doorsteps. We fish in the waters, we wade the shores, and we hike and ski through the forests. We do our best to take care of one another, our children and future generations. And we are quietly proud of how we make this city work through volunteerism, tight budgets and stewarding our resources. We are fine without the glitz of Los Angeles and New York City, and, despite our size, we feel a sense of ownership in the national recognition that Duluth is a city that leads by example.

As reported by the News Tribune, the Great Lakes are now collecting and filling with more than 20 million pounds of plastic every year. Published University of Wisconsin-Superior researcher Lorena Mendoza now finds plastic fragments in the waters of the St. Louis River and Park Point. The journal Science documents how fish are now preferentially eating plastic particles over natural food sources, which kills the fish. For the third year in a row, the Earth saw a new record set for the warmest year. Our schoolchildren are educated about how we must preferentially reduce then reuse.

Nevertheless, in Duluth, an average grocery store provides to customers, for free, approximately 1.6 million single-use paper and plastic (primarily plastic) carry-out bags every year because of consumer expectations. According to a local store manager, these cost the store no less than $60,000 per year, which is approximately what it would cost to purchase one reusable bag for every citizen in Duluth. These costs are real for small and big retailers alike.

Duluth retailers want to change the practice of free single-use giveaways because they understand this practice represents poor stewardship of environmental and financial resources. Yet they are reluctant to speak up because they are concerned about consumer opinion.

Customers — all of us — also want to do the right thing with an equally strong love of place. But, as creatures of habit, we are stuck in the rut of forgetting resusables and using free single-use bag giveaways as our default. Clearly, we need a new approach that helps all of us act and think differently.

We believe Duluth is ready to act. It is who we are.

Bag It Duluth is asking our City Council to help us collectively get "unstuck," freeing us to follow the lead of more than 160 cities and states across the nation and the world. As a team, we've analyzed these many city examples and believe we've crafted a model proposal that is right for our city and would help shift consumer behavior and put our values into practice. Because this has to work for everyone, we are developing reusable-bag collection events for those for whom cost is an issue. Our proposal includes a waiver on the minimum bag charge for those on SNAP or other public assistance, and we welcome other creative ideas.

Importantly, if this is adopted by the City Council, we suggest a one-year time frame before it goes into effect so we can practice and get ready together as a community. As we've learned from reactions in cities such as Boulder, Colo., Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., it takes only a few weeks to adjust and change habits.

Bag It Duluth now includes more than 45 businesses, organizations and communities of faith moved by our shared sense of community and our love of place.

We are asking our community to visit our website, bagitduluth.org, to review our proposal and to read the frequently asked questions. If it makes sense, add your name, organization or business to our list of supporters.

For your love of place, let your city councilors know we need their help to get us unstuck.

Jamie Harvie is the coordinator of the bag-ban campaign, called Bag It Duluth. He wrote this for the News Tribune.

GET INVOLVED

The League of Women Voters Duluth is hosting the screening of the film, "Bag It," followed by a q-and-a with experts on the issue of single-use plastic bag use.

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16

Where: Denfeld High School

MORE ONLINE

The Bag It, Duluth campaign's home page is at www.bagitduluth.org

Bag it, Duluth is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BagItDuluth/

The League of Women Voters Duluth is at www.lwvmn.org/league-women-voters-duluth

The American Progressive Bag Alliance is at www.plasticsindustry.org/apba

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