, Salem, MA

January 3, 2013

The problem with plastic bags

Film 'Bag It,' about the effect on the environment, to play in Beverly

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — BEVERLY — You can throw plastic bags away, but there is really no “away” where they can go.

“It might break down into smaller and smaller particles, but it never disappears,” said Estelle Rand, a member of the Beverly Solid Waste Management Committee.

The environmental impact of this reality is addressed by a documentary film, “Bag It,” which the committee is screening at the Cove Community Center in Beverly next Thursday.

“The shocking things are the health links, from plastic back to human health,” Rand said. “Even at a very surface level, how many times have you seen a plastic bag in a tree? It finds its way into the ocean. There’s a place in the ocean that’s about the size of Texas, and it’s full of plastic trash.”

The movie will be introduced by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, who has introduced a bill to ban plastic bags throughout the state.

“Similar efforts have been very successful, and many of them come out of coastal communities,” Ehrlich said, “largely because of the things we love about plastic bags — they’re lightweight and inexpensive.

“Because they’re so lightweight, they often end up in trees, city drains and waterways. When they get into oceans, they cause harm to marine life and wash up on our shores.”

And because plastic bags are cheap, consumers have few reservations about throwing them away, Ehrlich said.

But her ban does acknowledge the convenience of these bags and would allow versions that are biodegradable, which are being developed.

“There’s a tremendous amount of support around this bill,” Ehrlich said. “I had many co-sponsors, 40 representatives and senators, and there’s a Senate version.”

Ehrlich said several communities have passed their own bans, including Brookline and — around 10 years ago — Nantucket, but a statewide law would create a “level playing field” that is better for retailers.

Rand said that Ehrlich’s proposal also helps local groups, like the Solid Waste Committee, develop momentum around the issue.

“Initially, I thought we’re going to have to fight this small-town battle, to get plastic bags banned from Beverly,” she said. “Even if we banned them in Beverly, people shop in surrounding cities, so it would really be only a small push in the right direction. To get rid of them statewide would be fantastic.”

Rand believes “Bag It,” which was shot at locations around the world and was purchased with $150 from the committee’s education budget, will have an impact by raising awareness.

“They walk us through some startling facts about how recycling isn’t enough,” she said. “The main character is an everyday kind of guy, not somebody who from the get-go is going to be against plastic bags.”

“It’s fun, it’s entertaining, it’s not a dry film at all,” she said.

Charles Perlo, chairman of the Solid Waste Committee, said screening the film is consistent with the committee’s mission.

“It serves as a resource for the general education of the public, with respect to matters concerning solid-waste management, reduction and recycling,” he said.

The committee also leads by example, sponsoring an annual electronics recycling event at Beverly High School and collecting food waste at Beverly Homecoming. The waste is turned over to a composting facility in Hamilton, Brick Ends Farm.

Banning plastic bags is a way to both respect the environment and cut down on the amount of waste the city collects, Perlo said.

“‘Bag It’ provides a stunning revelation for what’s not being done with the plastic refuse and what needs to be done,” he said. “As you reduce solid waste in the so-called refuse stream, it saves the city money, and that’s separate from the environmental issue.”

Many plastic bags do wind up being incinerated, Perlo said, “which creates a wide range of environmental concerns” that would be reduced by Ehrlich’s ban.

“She knows there’s going to be stiff resistance from retailers and the food industry,” he said. “We’re trying to raise the consciousness of all the citizens and get some momentum going here.”

If you go What: "Bag It," a Reel Things Productions film, screening sponsored by Beverly Solid Waste Management Committee, introduced by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich When: Thursday, Jan. 10, 7 to 9 p.m. Where: Cove Community Center, 19 E. Corning St., Beverly More information: Free. Call Estelle Rand at 978-473-9891.