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In defense of the plastic bag ban

  • Author: Mark Lovegreen
    | Opinion
  • Updated: December 12, 2018
  • Published December 12, 2018

Rose Khotesouvan, a cashier at New Sagaya Midtown Market, bags customers groceries in Anchorage, AK on Wednesday, August 29, 2018. Assistant manager Rochelle Sortonis said they have seen an increase in customers bringing in reusable bags since talk of a plastic bag ban started. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

I’d planned to weigh in with an observation when the Anchorage Assembly first began to consider restrictions on merchants’ use of plastic bags. However, I got busy and the letter to the editor didn’t get written. Now I read with interest David Nees’ letter suggesting that with the Assembly’s new, restrictive bag regulation, a socialist-leaning camel is getting its nose under the tent.

Several years ago, my wife and I traveled with a group touring parts of Italy. We stayed in villas, which meant we cooked for a number of our meals. That meant shopping at the local grocery stores for provisions. It was obvious that pretty much everyone walking into the stores had their own shopping bags. As travelers, we had none and really stood out when we said we needed store-supplied bags and paid the fee for that service.

My wife and I had begun using our own bags years before that trip. It took a dozen or so trips to the store to remember to grab them from the car, but now we feel half-naked if we don’t have one or more bags in our hands as we walk across the parking lot. It helped to have signs up on the shopping cart corrals asking if we’d remembered our bags. All of the half-dozen or so bags that I keep in my vehicle I obtained free from various outfits doing some sort of promotion. Every so often, a purchase I’d planned to carry out of the store unbagged gets stuck into a plastic bag by a clerk on auto mode. Those bags get recycled, along with our newspaper sleeves, so I have confidence they won’t end up blown out to sea.

So why not free paper bags? All paper, including the paper used in paper bags, require a substantial carbon outlay to dry the paper. Much of that carbon ends up in our oceans, further acidifying them. Considering how much of the Alaska economy relies on healthy oceans, carrying one’s own bags seems like a minor thing to require.

A couple of times per year, I end up in Kansas to work on a project there. The grocery store I patronize offers plastic or paper bags. The paper bags have handles glued to them and so function just like the plastic bags. Before getting my own reusable bags, I used the paper bags. They still occasionally supplement my regular bags, and most have made dozens of trips through the checkout line without failing. Conveniently, they stand upright when bagging the groceries every time they’re used.

Our carbon footprints and disposable plastics are creating a less and less habitable world for many species, including us. Until the media begins to devote half the space to climate change that they give to sports coverage, I suspect change will come at too slow a pace to avoid shifting agricultural regions and further deterioration of the marine environment. After all, if it’s not in the media, then it must not be of much import, right? To this end, I thank the Anchorage Assembly for their foresight and leadership in this area. The country made changes to win world wars, and this struggle really does involve the world.

Finally, a recent report shows that Great Britain has substantially reduced its carbon footprint over the last half-decade or so, and still managed economic growth. Although there has been a shift in power sources, these shifts don’t account for all of the reduction. It appears that conscientious changes in how British residents have chosen to do things has been a significant factor in their success at reductions. Choices they made matter.

The United States has about 5 percent of the world’s population, but produces around 20 percent of the greenhouse gasses. If we continue to ignore these numbers, or even fight to continue our current contribution to the world’s pollution problem, history will surely view us a pariah state.

Mark Lovegreen is a retired Anchorage middle school math and science teacher. He drove tours in Yosemite and Denali national parks for 10 years, and in Alaska in general for another 10 years. He currently stays busy converting his tour bus into a motorhome and struggling to downsize into a smaller home.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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