Editorial: For the good of the planet

Published: 1/31/2020 10:03:11 AM

Shoppers entering Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield recently were greeted by a reminder taped to the front window: “Did you remember your shopping bags?”

Some did, others didn’t and instead resorted to the Allen Street grocery store’s bags, which were on sale for 10 cents each.

Paper, not plastic.

One year after the City Council banned non-recyclable plastic bags, an ordinance went into effect last week, applying to grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, jewelry stores, household goods stores and others. Notably, it does not include restaurants, liquor stores, religious institutions or food pantries.

In the coming days, the city’s Health Department will enforce the ban using a complaint-based system and will follow up on complaints to see if stores are in compliance, according to Health Inspector Tim Newton. A written warning is given for the first infraction, allowing businesses 14 days to become compliant, after which a $50 per day fine is enforced. Health Department workers may also enforce the ban during their other routine duties and visits to businesses.

With the ban, Greenfield joins a growing number of cities and towns in Massachusetts that have enacted similar ordinances, including Springfield, Northampton, Great Barrington and Lee.

Of course, there are some drawbacks.

Paper bags aren’t all that sturdy and, without the proper support, they can lose structure quickly and split, sending grocery items tumbling. In the coming weeks and months, there will probably be complaints from annoyed customers decrying the loss of plastic bags, which were convenient and easy.

But it’s a minor hassle for the good of the planet.

“(Reducing the usage of single-use carryout bags) is a public purpose that protects the marine environment, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, protects waterways and lowers the cost to the municipality of litter collection, recycling and solid waste disposal,” the ordinance reads.

In American society, we’re accustomed to convenience.

Unconsciously, we gravitate toward the path of least resistance, heedless of the impact of our actions. It’s this mentality that’s contributed to the escalating climate crisis that we face today — a crisis so big that it’s easy to feel powerless in its shadow.

Through the city’s plastic bag ban, which is a teeny tiny solution to a massive problem, Franklin County residents have been presented with a tangible way to mitigate their impact on the local environment. The ban is designed to curb the use of plastic, which isn’t biodegradable and floats down our waterways, harming wildlife and creating a hassle that city workers must clean up (ultimately paid for by residents). Paper products are offered as a replacement.

But even those aren’t ideal.

Paper bags, while biodegradable, take a long time to decompose. Additionally, they require a lot of resources to produce. Faced with these two choices, paper or plastic, there is a third option: Re-useable bags, which are sturdier even than plastic and the best by far for the environment. Of course, in order to use reusable bags, shoppers must have them on hand — it’s easy to forget them on the way out the door. Veteran Northampton and Great Barrington shoppers have learned to keep a few reusable bags in the car so they’re always ready for a last-minute grocery store trip.

Locally, it will take time for businesses and customers to fully embrace the ban. Our hope is that Greenfield’s initiative will be a catalyst for greater regional change — a first step toward a more environmentally friendly future — that will catch on in other Franklin County municipalities.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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