Time to take action

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To the Editor:

Town meetings are coming up. There are a lot of important articles for voters to consider, among them the proposed bylaw banning plastic checkout bags. The objective of the bylaw is straightforward: to eliminate the use of plastic bags at checkout and to encourage the use of reusable bags. The reasons the bag ban make sense are equally straightforward. Plastic bags create litter; they jam recycling machinery, causing extra waste disposal costs; they pollute the ocean; they injure and kill wildlife; they are not suitable for reuse; fewer than 5 percent are actually recycled; they never really decompose.

Full details about the plastic bag ban are available on the Vineyard Conservation Society’s website, so I won’t recite them here. I want to rebut the principal arguments made against the bylaw.

(a) Additional cost. It is true that paper bags cost more than plastic.But stores can recover their costs by charging a nominal bag fee or by treating the increased cost as a cost of doing business and passing it on. Stores are faced with cost increases regularly — from the cost of labor to the cost of products and merchandise to the costs of utilities, etc. This is no different.

(b) Paper bags are worse for the environment. Scientists genuinely differ on what is “worse” for the environment when looking at total paper vs. plastic life-cycle costs. Suffice it to say that plastic waste will be here for thousands of years; not so with paper, which is fully recyclable and compostable. Plastic bags are litter-prone because of their light weight; they are dangerous to wildlife; they are made from a nonrenewable resource. Not so with paper.

(c) Island visitors won’t carry a reusable bag with them. If these visitors don’t want a paper bag, they will be able to purchase a reusable bag for $1 or less to tote all their Island purchases. This is a minuscule cost in light of the money they spend while visiting the Island. And it could be a great marketing opportunity for stores. I have seen day-trippers with their own reusable bags. This will become our norm.

The proposed bylaw may not be the perfect solution to the plastic bag problem. But the issue has been considered thoroughly for a long time (and not just by VCS), and regulations have been implemented in 17 Massachusetts towns, throughout the country, and around the world. If we are committed to moving forward to eliminate plastic bags, I believe we have a sound basis for acting now.

Here is a small, but telling, statistic. One of our smaller grocery stores uses 500,000 plastic bags per year. How many are used across the island? How many millions more will there be next year if we don’t act now? It is the time to take action.

Joan Malkin

Chilmark