Is a world without plastic possible, or even desirable? I don’t think so — certain plastics have obvious benefits.

But so many plastics are totally unnecessary, including the single-use shopping bag given away at the grocery and convenience store checkouts. When something is given away for free, it rarely has any value, and sadly, so many of us say, “Why not? It doesn’t cost anything, I’ll take one.” But these bags do cost something. The store doesn’t get them for free; they have to buy them, and in the long run our environment pays the most. Plastic bags don’t compost. Instead, they break up, not break down, becoming permanent pollution. They easily end up in the stomachs of land animals and sea creatures. Often these bags can be seen dangling from tree branches, and they contribute to the costs of disposing our city trash.

Finally, while only a small percentage of plastic shopping bags get recycled, they often become tangled up in equipment at recycling plants, causing machinery to shut down.

How do we cut down on the use of disposable shopping bags and all their related problems? Perhaps the stores can help us to cut back on such a free and convenient item by simply charging a small fee, such as 5 cents for each single-use plastic shopping bag. At present only one store in Waterville charges such a fee: Save-A-Lot on the Concourse.

Creating an ordinance would level the playing field. I suggest that nobody gets a free plastic, single-use shopping bag or paper bag. Yes, paper bags also have marked impact on the environment. (Just to be clear, we are talking about single-use shopping bags, not the bags we use for produce.)

About 70 percent of all single-use plastic shopping bags come from grocery and convenience stores, and it is here that we should focus our attention.

If we as customers don’t want to contribute to plastic pollution and unnecessary city trash we can start using reusable shopping bags. This is not an original idea. At most every supermarket checkout counter in Maine, reusable shopping bags are for sale. There are lots to choose from at different prices.

On the other hand, if we shoppers insist upon a single-use shopping bag, then we can pay for it. Who should keep the money? The stores should, since they bought the bags in the first place.

Now who would oppose an ordinance? Certainly some shoppers would because they like getting things for free. Some would call this unnecessary government interference.

But it’s probably the plastics industry that would oppose this type of ordinance the most because of the money they might lose. They want you to throw away those bags, so they can sell the stores more.

It’s time to support a change in Waterville. We would not be the first community in Maine to impose a fee for single-use plastic shopping bags. The city would not make money or create unnecessary administration problems. Rather, Waterville could simply do the right thing for the environment, cut down on trash and save ourselves some money by passing an ordinance.

As residents of Waterville, it’s time we thought of ourselves as part of an environmentally progressive city that believes in doing the right thing. Let’s hope we would not be the last.

If you would like to participate in the planning committee’s efforts to discourage single-use plastic shopping bags, you are invited to attend the next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 1 p.m. in the Front Street Conference Room of Waterville City Hall. For more information, contact Linda at 680-4208.

Stu Silverstein is a member of Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team as well as the city of Waterville’s Solid Waste Committee. He lives in Waterville.

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