VCS bag ban is poor policy


To the Editor:

For 16 years I called Massachusetts home. While I was a proud resident of North Attleborough, my family and I always enjoyed our visits to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. We would stay for an entire week to explore and enjoy the beauty around us. We treasured our time there, and felt grateful to be able to visit.

My appreciation for this community is why I was frustrated to read that instead of calling on residents to support proven recycling efforts, the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) is proposing that Martha’s Vineyard eliminate all so-called “single-use” plastic bags by outright banning them (Jan. 27, “It’s time to bag the plastic”). It is difficult to understand why we would want to ban a 100 percent recyclable, reusable, American-made product that is irrefutably the most environmentally friendly bagging option available in stores. While everyone should work together to have zero litter, the 2015 Ocean Conservancy Report reveals plastic retail bags comprised only 1.2 percent of the items collected by cleanup volunteers in Massachusetts. Bag bans and taxes don’t solve litter problems.
Two of the most prominent arguments about plastic bags is that they are difficult to recycle and that they aren’t reused. These arguments couldn’t be further from the truth. Plastic bag and film recycling is one of the fastest-growing segments of the recycling industry. Novolex, the company I’ve proudly been with for 19 years, has been working with grocery stores and retailers across the country to establish nearly 30,000 drop-off points. Over 35 million pounds of plastic bags, film, and wraps are collected and recycled from these locations each year. By being in proximity to a store with plastic-bag recycling bins, an overwhelming majority of Americans are able to contribute to recycling plastic bags into eco-friendly raw material used for playgrounds, construction materials, and other plastic bags. Also, nearly every plastic bag is reused. More than 90 percent of Americans reuse them at least once, from storing items, to waste disposal, to using them as packing material.
To be clear, the alternatives to plastic bags are worse for the environment. Take reusable bags as an example. The popular, thick, nonwoven polypropylene (NWPP) “reusable” bags? Most are imported from China, made from oil, and only reused approximately 15 times. Sadly, these all end up in our landfills, because they are not recyclable. The cloth ones? If you choose to use it, plan on doing so 131 times before its contribution to climate change is lower than a plastic bag used just once. And reusable canvas bags are breeding grounds for bacteria. A Canadian study found bacteria buildup on reusable bags to be 300 percent more than what is considered safe. Take, for example, the incident several years ago in Oregon where several girls on a soccer team contracted norovirus from a reusable bag that was carrying their lunches.
Before making such a hasty move, Martha’s Vineyard should consider the fact that plastic bag bans and taxes around the country have not been successful. Just last year, Winchester rejected a proposed plastic bag ban at a town meeting, and voters in Greenfield rejected a nonbinding ballot question to ban plastic bags.
What Martha’s Vineyard — and communities around the country — should do is focus on recycling. We can and ought to be working together to find better recycling-based solutions. That is the path best for the residents of Massachusetts, the families of the hardworking employees of the state’s plastics manufacturing industry, and the beautiful community of Martha’s Vineyard.

Mark Daniels, chairman
American Progressive Bag Alliance
Washington, D.C.