, Salem, MA

April 29, 2013

Clinging to the plastic bag: Local shoppers weigh in

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — Should the commonwealth take away the plastic shopping bag? A sampling of North Shore residents reveals a general reaction to the idea — you can have my plastic bag when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Of course, no one was quite as emphatic as that, an echo of a sentiment oft heard from members of the National Rifle Association.

Most of the shoppers sampled were at least sympathetic to the goals of Marblehead state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, who wants a statewide ban of the bags to reduce the pollution they create.

Still, many objected to a new law to achieve those goals.

“I usually ask for paper bags,” said Marie Deschamps of Danvers. “People should know enough to get paper bags.”

But she did not hesitate when asked if the government should mandate that.

“I think there are too many laws now,” she said.

Advised of Ehrlich’s concern that the bags are not biodegradable and that they show up everywhere, clogging drains, washing onto beaches, wrapped around helpless animals and even contributing to massive plastic garbage dumps floating in the middle of the ocean — Deschamps paused.

“I’m like this,” she said, turning her hand to one side and then the other. “If people can’t do what they should do, then maybe we do need a law.”

But her preference for now is to see more voluntary recycling.

“I like reusable bags,” Alicia Hanson of Salem said.

She carries several in her car so she’ll have one when she needs to shop. She washes them regularly to avoid the buildup of bacteria.

For all her concerns about the environment, however, Hanson does not favor a ban.

“I don’t like any kind of force-fed politics over my everyday life,” she said.

William Ambrose of Middleton feels the same way.

“What are they going to ban next?” he asked. “We’re in America. ... Ever try carrying groceries in a paper bag?”

Giving advocates credit for good intentions — “I know they want to save the planet and everything” — Ambrose suggested a return policy for the bags with cash for bait and recycling the goal. “Just like the bottles.”

“I like plastic bags,” declared Larry Minehan of Peabody, out for an ice cream at Treadwell’s with his granddaughter. “I use them for other things, too. ... They do take forever to biodegrade.” He nodded. “If they got more biodegradable bags, that would be good.”

A boater, Minehan conceded that he sees the bags floating at sea. “But I also see Styrofoam cups and clear plastics.”

“I just like the convenience,” John Moore of Peabody said. “And I use them for everything.”

Echoing several others, Moore could tick off a variety of “reuses” for the bags once brought home from the market, everything from lining wastebaskets to containing recyclables.

He might approve of a ban, Moore added, “if they could come up with a better alternative — an improved paper bag.”

For many, it’s difficult to imagine that alternative, however, as the plastic bags have handles and can be carried more easily. A few markets offer sturdy paper bags with handles, but the big chains tend toward flimsier ones and no handles.

“I don’t know how I feel about it,” Idelle Marglous of Salem said. “I think they (plastic bags) serve a purpose for an elderly person who needs to get in the car and she’s the one carrying the bag.”

The concern from environmentalists and people like Ehrlich is the long-term impact of millions of plastic bags that aren’t easily recycled and are blowing out into the world in all directions. But Marglous is also concerned about the future and thinks the idea of forbidding the bags comes without consideration for the impact on those who’ve become accustomed to using them.

“Sometimes,” Marglous concluded, “I don’t think we really think things through.”