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Lynne Plambeck: Time to bring your own bag to the grocery

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: December 8, 2010 9:55 p.m.
Updated: December 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Many of us were disheartened when the last state legislative session failed to approve a plastic-bag ban that even the grocers supported.

With many local jurisdictions passing their own rules, the logic of providing statewide consistency was apparent. Now that even Los Angeles County is on board to ban plastic bags after last month’s adoption of a new ordinance prohibiting them in the unincorporated areas, it makes little sense for our own city not to jump on the “ban” wagon.

People think of plastic bags as being free. But actually, they cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

 In San Francisco alone, city officials estimated that they spent $8.5 million annually to deal with plastic-bag litter — that equates to roughly 17 cents for every bag distributed in the city. It is no wonder that San Franciscans were early advocates of banning the bag.

Additionally:
* It costs the state $25 million annually to landfill discarded plastic bags.

* Public agencies in California spend in excess of $303 million annually in litter abatement.

* Southern California cities have spent in excess of $1.7 billion in meeting total maximum daily loads for trash in impaired waterways.

* Cities and recyclers spend incalculable amounts removing plastic bags from their recyclables stream, where they jam machinery and add to the manual labor costs of recycling.

Plastic bags kill wildlife and sea animals that ingest the plastic, thinking it is food. It lodges in their digestive systems, eventually causing starvation.

Plastic bags are an oil-based product. Their manufacture creates air pollution that adds to global warming and uses up precious petroleum resources in a pretty inefficient usage.

Just think — the Santa Clarita Valley has approximately 60,000 families. If each family uses five bags a week, that’s 300,000 bags a week, or 15.6 million bags a year — ­from our community alone.

Only an estimated 1 to 4 percent of the 15 billion plastic bags used each year in California are recycled.

SCOPE campaigned for many years for everyone to “bring your own bag to the grocery store” starting in 1993, when it joined the city and several other organizations to stop Elsmere Canyon from becoming a landfill.

The idea was that if we didn’t want a landfill in our own backyard, we had to “walk the walk” and reduce our local generation of garbage.  However, once this issue disappeared and Elsmere seemed to be safe, many folks forgot the good habits they had learned.

When China announced its ban on plastic bags in 2008, it cited many of the same problems that we experience in Santa Clarita.

Plastic bags littered their streets and rivers. They expressed concern about the waste of energy and resources to create the bags and asked their shoppers to return to their original custom of bringing a basket with them to do their marketing. Then they ordered that the factories that manufacture plastic bags be closed.

While the United States will certainly not summarily order the shutdown of bag factories, many businesses already are on board with the concept of sacking the plastic sack.

Whole Foods no longer offers plastic bags. Instead, they provide several alternatives: free paper bags made of 100 percent recycled material; 99-cent reusable bags made mostly from recycled plastic; and canvas bags. Customers may also bring their own bags and knock a few cents off their grocery bills.

Among other retailers, most Trader Joe’s stores use paper bags, though some offer plastic. Ikea’s U.S. stores charge 5 cents for plastic bags, which is mostly donated to a conservation group.

Our local Ralph’s and Vons offer 5 cents off to reward shoppers for bringing their own bags.

 In this day and age, 5 cents isn’t much to many in our affluent valley. Maybe it would make a greater impression to ask “Paper or plastic, or did you help the environment today by bringing your own bag?”

So here’s a tip to reduce global warming and save our precious petroleum for a better use than throwing it in a landfill. Be a part of the solution — bring your own bag to the store. It’s easy to just stick them under your car seat so they are there when you need them. Bring more than one if you do a lot of shopping. Don’t bother using a bag at all for large items, especially when they already have a handle.

Lynne Plambeck is a Santa Clarita resident and president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays and rotates among local environmentalists.

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