We all have been thinking about how to improve ourselves now that the New Year's great reset button has happened. Exercise more, save money, spend less time on technology devices, try to manage weight, stop smoking, and curb alcohol consumption: those are among our many "want to's."

What we should also want to do is protect the Earth from our habits - especially the single-use plastic habit.

Jane Hovland
Jane Hovland
You no doubt experienced the endless holiday shopping period, which continued with post-holiday sales. Each purchase made was accompanied by an offer of a carrying bag, generally plastic. Many of us declined. We carried, and have been carrying, our own reusable bags in hopes that our small action would have a positive impact on our environment.

We also take advantage of generous offers to recycle plastic bags by delivering bags of bags to big-box stores, an effort that has a diminishing market. China has reduced its demand for our plastic by 90 percent over the past year.

However well-intentioned these personal actions are, the larger problem is that a floating plastic island the size of Texas is in the Pacific Ocean. (And there are four other ones in other oceans.) Plastic litters what used to be pristine beaches of the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and even the Arctic. Dead whales, seals, fish, otters, and sharks have shown plastics in their bodies at necropsy. It appears they were unable to distinguish between our plastic refuse and their food. We all likely have seen the pictures of wild birds entangled in plastic beer-can holders, monofilament line, and plastic bags.

If you have ever hiked the shores of Lake Superior, you have seen single-use detritus: cutlery, plastic containers, straws, plastic bottles, and the ubiquitous plastic bags. You also have seen plastic bags hanging from tree limbs, blown there from other places.

It is estimated that a single Duluth grocery store dispenses 1.5 million plastic shopping bags per year. There are about 30 grocery stores in the Duluth area. What do we do with a minimum of 45 million plastic bags? These bags cost each grocery store an average of $60,000 annually. That means they cost an estimated $1 million to $3 million in total every year.

Additionally, 20 million pounds of plastic enter the Great Lakes annually. We celebrate Lake Superior and her unique environment. So why does it make sense to pollute her with a material that takes up to 1,000 years to degrade?

Duluth has a chance to address its part of the plastic problem. It is time we joined other communities in encouraging the use of reusable bags and reducing the use of plastic bags. Some communities charge a convenience fee of 5 cents to 10 cents for plastic bags, with the proceeds going to environmental cleanup. Others offer a credit for the use of reusable bags.

No matter how our community approaches this particular issue, the overriding concern is addressing our role in the scourge of single-use plastic in our environment.

It is no longer acceptable to believe that because we love our big lake and surrounding rivers and streams we are "environmentalists." We have to prove that we are, as individuals and a community. Duluth can show the rest of Minnesota how to do this, just as we did with our clean-indoor-air ordinance, which was the basis for the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act.

As a stakeholder in maintaining environmental quality, the League of Women Voters Duluth urges the Duluth City Council to lead the community in environmental protection.

 

Jane Hovland of is a member of the League of Women Voters Duluth and its Natural Resources Committee. For more information on this topic, she urges readers to visit bagitduluth.org.