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Local View: Learn from Grand Rapids; require reusable bags

I applaud Denette Lynch's Feb. 22 "Local View" column, "Bag ban in Duluth unnecessary government intrusion." Unfortunately, her suggestions won't work.

I applaud Denette Lynch's Feb. 22 "Local View" column, "Bag ban in Duluth unnecessary government intrusion." Unfortunately, her suggestions won't work.

I am a member of Earth Circle in Grand Rapids. In our voluntary campaign to reduce plastic-bag use, we have distributed thousands of reusable bags, have given out reminder stickers to shoppers, have shown our Powerpoint presentation and the "Bag It" film to local organizations, have hung reminder signs in parking lots, have partnered with grocery stores and churches, have published numerous articles in our newspaper, have spoken on the radio, and have taught fifth-graders about plastic pollution at a Water Legacy Youth Summit. During the holiday season, we even gave a dollar for every reusable bag shoppers used at two local grocery stores.

While we have seen an increased use of reusable bags in Grand Rapids, many people still leave the stores with carts full of plastic. The unintended consequences of such behavior are legion.

Earth Circle attempted to ban single-use plastic bags in our community, but the city attorney ruled that, under our governing statutes, the City Council does not have the authority to pass such a ban. We were left with a voluntary effort.

As a group, we decided we could do nothing or we could do something. We began an exhaustive campaign in 2013 after learning that, globally, 1 million plastic bags are used each minute and 1 trillion each year.

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Every time I learn another dead whale with plastic bags in its stomach washed up on a beach, as happened recently in Norway, I cringe. It's difficult to imagine these ancient, massive creatures brought down by plastic products. They are but one casualty of this convenient but deadly material.

But we as a society are reluctant to change a habit that seems to be hardwired into our everyday behavior. If our massive outreach in Grand Rapids worked perfectly, I gladly would encourage Duluth to forget its ban. But our experience has told us differently, and it's often wise to learn from those who have gone before.

Like Lynch, my wife and I have not taken a plastic bag for years, but we still have many to recycle. Bread, buns, toilet tissue, some apples and veggies, and more already are in plastic bags. Those bags can be used for garbage and animal waste. Mesh bags are available at a reasonable cost and can be substituted for plastic when purchasing items at the produce aisle.

There are few legitimate reasons for using plastic bags that will exist far beyond our grandchildren's life span, but we are leaving a terrible legacy in our oceans, lakes, ditches, and landfills.

With the availability of reusable bags, it's difficult to imagine many shoppers leaving Duluth to avoid a 5-cent or 10-cent charge for a plastic or paper bag. Duluth could choose a site that needs care and direct a portion of the proceeds from a per-bag fee to it, as other cities have done. A designated project could help instill community pride. It's a little more paperwork but a concept that might inspire shoppers who see only a ban and not a benefit.

We are not in this alone. Around the world, countries, states, and cities are making changes to clean the global community. Many have enacted plastic-bag bans. Oceanic scientists are searching for ways to clean the ocean's giant garbage islands. Volunteers spend countless hours collecting trash, as dedicated helpers do in Grand Rapids.

Our beleaguered planet needs all of us to do something. Carrying reusable bags is one small effort we can easily make.

 

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Jack Mooty of Grand Rapids is a member of Earth Circle.

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