How do I feel about plastic bag bans?

That’s right: I’m not sure. In the Boston area, Cambridge has recently banned plastic shopping bags. You can pay 10 cents to get a paper or compostable bag. Somerville will institute its own ban in a few months. Last weekend, I was at a Korean place in Somerville and needed several leftover containers. The waiter dropped them in a pile on my table and informed me the city would not allow him to give me a bag. There were so many things wrong with this scenario: the big pile of styrofoam containers, the fact that the ban had not taken effect in the city we were in, the lack of any alternative offering, the lack of knowledge regarding the ability to pay a surcharge and receive a bag, the lack of any information about where the 10 cents goes… it just made me kind of annoyed, and as a pretty devout environmentalist, if I’m annoyed about this, I can only imagine the backlash among others.

I should note that I personally always bring my own bags for groceries, and the few bags I pick up elsewhere I use for trash can liners. I have not thrown out or “recycled” plastic bags in over a decade. So if totally banned, I will actually have to start buying bags for trash.

So I thought I’d ask you all what you think. I since read an interesting piece in the New Yorker


which more or less casts it as a litter problem (very different from an environmental problem).

Is this the place to focus our collective energy? Are the returns great enough to justify a lot of outrage which will be directed to environmentalists? Should we be concentrating on eating less meat and/or driving less which are major fossil fuel use factors?

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This is an odd one. Styrofoam is actually already against the law in Somerville, but bags are not. No where in the ordinance can I find a ban on takeout bags, but I can only find a summary of the ordinance. Something about this story makes me think that the restaurant is the primary problem, not the bag ban.

I live in Somerville, and hate how many plastic bags I have to pick out of my hedges and from under my front porch. They are in my trees far above where I can get to them. The sheer number of wayward bags has diminished at the same rate that Mini coopers have been added. Less litter has been one of the unexpected good sides of gentrification.

Overall, I am going to be on the side of the bag ban. Perhaps stores and restaurants will start having little bins that you can add extra bags for others who either forgot or went shopping unexpectedly, like the penny jars?

I am interested as to what spot provided no way for you to get your food home. If I go, I will certainly want to know that I have to bring my own bags for leftovers.

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I live in Cambridge and hear you, but my opinion is that you’ve got to start somewhere and this is as good as any. Cleaning up litter is a good enough reason for me. This will force people to get into the mindset of being more socially responsible and we need a lot more of that. Much more drastic changes may be needed in the not too distant future.

Trust me, the ban is taking some getting used to. I bought reusable bags, however they haven;'t gotten much use because I forget them every time I go to the store. I thought storing them in the car would help, but now I get mildly irked every time I realize I forgot them when checking out. I have heard a lot of people griping about the $.10. I don’t get that; you’re shopping at Whole Foods, shut up. For me it’s just a convenience thing. Also, grocery stores are one thing, but per your example are you really going to being your reusable bag to bring leftovers home from dinner? Again, if you’re eating out $.10 is no big deal, but that just seems inefficient.

People outraged about this should get a hobby. However, yes it is a step in the right direction of getting people accustomed to this type of change, then we can maybe tackle some of these loftier and worthy goals you suggest.

Anyway, where am I going to get the small plastic bags for the trash cans in our bathrooms??

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I’m just glad I came across this. - I had no idea about the ban. I’m assuming it will spread through Boston. Time to start keeping a few extra in the trunk.

I’m okay with the ban/charge for bags. It takes some adjustment but you get used to it. I think the haphazard implementation will be more annoying for now (at least for me).

Interesting. I live in Los Angeles County and we’ve had a bag ban for a while now. But, it only applies to grocery stores and stores that sell groceries. So if I go to Ralph’s, I bring my own bags or buy one (if I forgot). Same with Target, because they sell groceries. But if I go to Lowes (home improvement store), they provide a bag. Restaurants provide bags for takeout food, but sometimes you have to ask if you want a bag and only have 1-2 to-go containers. I do like asking for bags when I can because I reuse them as trash can liners.

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Here in MI there are no plastic bag bans anywhere yet. But almost every “urban” area with suburban tentacles, recycles. So we are not seeing sickening amounts of littering of bags or plastic containers. Cigarette butts are an altogether different litter issue here.

It’s been years for the ban on plastic grocery bags . They still have them in the produce section . Just not grocery bags . I have gotten used to it . At least your not seeing those bags blowing around anymore littering the streets .

Glad you posted that link, the article was food for thought and the related article, about bag-snagging, also fascinating, I remember hearing about those bag-snagging guys on the radio years ago. I am in favor of the bans and/or fees for plastic bags, I think they are terrible both in terms of litter and use of petro-chemicals.

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We’ve had a ban on plastic bags and styrofoam too here in Ashland, Oregon As mentioned above, we have a roll for meat, but vegetables go in paper sacks and paper grocery sacks cost a dime.
Reusable bags are $1or so. Easy to get used to.
I would add, that’s all stores, not just food oriented.

In Seattle AFAIK everyone has to charge. I know department stores do. We’ll be back at The Home Depot soon and I’ll check them out. Maybe they can give you paper bags rather than charge. I’ll keep my eyes open.

And it’s not ‘just’ littering. Plastic is polluting our oceans terribly.

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There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 .

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Interesting- I had no idea. I still am given styrofoam to-go containers regularly. This particular instance was at Buk Kyung in Union Square. What’s the deal with all the styrofoam trays for veggies, then? Different clause? They’re ubiquitous at Market Basket, but I’ve noticed many other supermarkets switching away from them.

I predate the plastic bag era. When I was a kid, supermarket produce went into small brown bags. Wastebaskets had medium paper bags, or none at all, because nothing wet went into them. A doubled paper grocery bag lined the kitchen garbage can. If you were throwing out wet stuff, you wrapped it in newspaper first, or put it into an empty jar or milk carton. There was no recycling. The larger can outside had no lining, so it needed periodic hosing out.

I support plastic bag bans and I hope there’s an additional up-side - more investment by industry into development of sturdy, moisture-proof bags that are biodegradable.

To be sure, getting into the reusable grocery tote habit takes time. At first I forgot all the time. Then I made a habit of hanging them on the front doorknob, which helped a lot.
Once I realized how nice it is to have bags that can hold a heavy load and never spill their contents in the car or on the front walk, using them became second nature.

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Here is the Somerville page that explains the ban. My understanding, through second hand talking with restaurants, etc, is that some places were given an exemption that allows them to use stock that they had already purchased. The same has been done in Cambridge with food stores that have a huge number of plastic bags already in the back room. Beats me how this can be enforced, but this is the story that I am hearing.

Somerville Styrofoam Ban

I wish Philadelphia would enact a plastic bag ban.

Fortunately I don’t see bags in trees or generally littering the landscape around here. I image elsewhere and in the waters it can be a big problem. For those wanting a ban or charge, where do you draw the line? What about the produce bags at the grocery store? I’ve seen people use a bag for a single pepper or one bunch of bananas. Department stores, Target, etc? How is the equation affected if I stop getting blue bags from the grocery but buy plastic bags for the trash can and picking up dog crap? Just wondering how people see it with the inclusion of those issues.

I’m curious, smtucker… all these plastic bags you’re having to pick out from under your hedges, under your front porch and high up in your trees – do people just toss empty bags indiscriminately into the streets, or do they find their way to your property some other way? I’m not at all familiar with Somerville so I don’t know if it’s urban, suburban or rural. “Gentrification” makes it sound like it’s urban. If so, aren’t there trash cans where unwanted bags can be tossed? Just askin’.

In my area the trash problem actual comes from recycling ironically. We have open tubs for recycling pick-up. For 3 weeks in a row we had high winds on recycling day and my yard was full of all sorts of light weight recyclables, including bags.

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The produce bags that I see are compostable. And I don’t use them for things like you mention. I’ll use them for greens cause they tend to be wet from the ‘shower’ machine. We’re able to recycle so much (curbside) that the two of us generally make only one big bag of garbage a week.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold