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Source: The Ridgefield Press

Reusable bags becoming more popular in Ridgefield


Posted: July 12, 2009
Originally Published: July 11, 2009

Debates over taxing or banning plastic shopping bags have made headlines recently, but both merchants and environmentalists say plastic bag laws may create new problems, both economic and environmental.

Meanwhile, the debate may be increasing awareness of the problems of plastic bag use, and encouraging a growing number of shoppers to employ reusable bags at supermarkets.

If they remember to bring them in, that is.

“Reusable bags are by far the best solution,” said Joe Ancona of Ancona’s Market. “In the last three years, it’s something we made a huge effort on.”

“So many people tell me that they carry these bags in their car but forget to bring them into the store and only remember them at the checkout when it is too late to retrieve them,” said Gretchen Bishop, a member of the Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment.

Ancona’s Market displays signs at the entrance reminding shoppers to bring reusable bags and then offers a chance to buy reusable bags for 99 cents at each register. Mr. Ancona said the use of plastic bags in his store has gone down by 30 to 40% because of these efforts.

Peter Rosencrans, an Ancona’s market employee, said, “A high percentage of people who usually have large orders tend to use reusable bags. However, many customers forget them so they end up using paper or plastic.”

“We need to change our ‘disposable is better’ mindset. Reusing is better,” said Ms. Bishop. “Reusable bags are cheaper, stronger, with greater holding capacity, and require not much inconvenience at all.”

Because awareness and individual efforts have increased, local and state governments are getting involved.

Bag tax

On March 19, Westport’s ban on plastic bags at retail checkout counters, modeled after bans in China and Africa, went into effect. Inspired by this step, the state of Connecticut considered imposing a “bag tax,” charging five cents for each plastic bag used at a retail store.

The bag tax “is very likely to be effective at helping people to remember to do what they already want to do, switch to reusable bags,” said Emmett Pepper, Connecticut and Hudson Valley program director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Others disagree.

“A bag tax is a terrible idea,” said Mr. Ancona. “Instead of the nuisance of collecting the tax, larger chains would pay the tax themselves as a matter of convenience. Five cents isn’t enough to deter plastic bag use.”

“It sends a very mixed message,” Ms. Bishop said. “The state becomes dependent on the revenue from taxing a commodity that they ostensibly want to eliminate. So the question is what would really be the purpose of bag tax — to raise revenue or to eliminate the use of disposable bags?”

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell opposes the bag tax. She believes incentives, such as the five-cent discount that Stop & Shop offers per reusable bag, would be more effective than punishment.

Many countries have established a bag tax system. Ireland began its “PlasTax” of 20 cents per bag in March 2002, leading to a 90% decrease in plastic bag use and millions of dollars raised for recycling programs. Other nations that imposed bag regulations are Australia, Bangladesh, Italy and Taiwan.

Bag ban

“A bag ban really gets at changing behavior without all the hassle of taxes and the associated problems,” said Ms. Bishop. “A bag ordinance limiting the use of disposables could be very effective, but it would need the support of shoppers and retailers alike.”

Mr. Ancona, Ms. Bishop, Mr. Pepper and other advocates for reusable bags worry that paper rather than reusable will replace plastic bags.

“We support banning plastic bags, particularly in coastal states like Connecticut, since there is such a large impact on aquatic wildlife, but we are concerned about unintended consequences, such as increases in paper bag use,” said Mr. Pepper.

After careful calculations, Mr. Ancona concluded that because paper bags weigh 12 times as much as plastic, to ship the same number of paper bags would take more trucks, which use more gas. Using paper bags is “just as bad if not worse.”

“They use much more energy to manufacture, transport and recycle than plastic,” said Ms. Bishop. “They cost more, cause more air and water pollution. And of course there is the obvious, that paper bags have an enormous impact on forests.”

“Any approach to deter plastic and paper bags will mean education, education, education on all fronts,” said Ms. Bishop. “Some of that has started but we need and hope to provide more.”