Re­quiem for the plas­tic bag

Calhoun Times - - FRONT PAGE - The Chicago Tri­bune Ed­i­to­rial Board, Chicago Tri­bune

The not-quite-as-ubiq­ui­tous plas­tic gro­cery bag took an­other big hit Thurs­day. The na­tion’s largest gro­cery chain, Kroger Co. — par­ent of Mar­i­ano’s — de­clared that it would phase out sin­gle-use plas­tic bags from its nearly 2,800 stores by 2025.

Kroger or­ders about 6 bil­lion bags a year — yes, bil­lion. So this isn’t a mi­nor rip­ple. It should ac­cel­er­ate the slide of plas­tic bags into obliv­ion, at least in the U.S. We re­al­ize that dog own­ers will have to find an­other means to scoop and work­ers will have to find an­other ves­sel in which to ferry lunch.

Sorry, folks, but there’s a greater good here. Bil­lions of bags are tossed out every year in the U.S. Many of those bags, and other plas­tic waste, wind up lit­ter­ing the world’s oceans, lakes, beaches, park­ways and streets. These bags take up to 1,000 years to de­grade.

Are Amer­i­can con­sumers ready for this shift? Kroger, which says it “lis­tens closely” to cus­tomers’ con­cerns, thinks so. As do we.

Most of the plas­tic pro­duced since the dawn of the Plas­tic Age after World War II — more than 9 bil­lion tons — is still around, clut­ter­ing up the planet. On the cur­rent pol­lu­tion tra­jec­tory, re­searchers say plas­tic refuse in oceans could ex­ceed fish, ton for ton, in three decades. Or, as one sci­en­tist chill­ingly notes, for every pound of tuna taken out of the ocean, peo­ple are dump­ing two pounds of plas­tic in.

Peo­ple care­lessly tossed trash out the car win­dow, on side­walks and on the beach un­til pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns at least made many of them feel guilty about it. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans no longer lit­ter. Many of them also shun plas­tic bags and other one-and-done plas­tic con­tain­ers.

The bags and other sin­gle-use plas­tic items like straws are draw­ing the evil eye from food pur­vey­ors and other re­tail­ers who seek to pro­mote them­selves as green.

Star­bucks, Dis­ney, Mar­riott, Hy­att Ho­tels, Let­tuce En­ter­tain You En­ter­prises and McDon­ald’s are among the com­pa­nies mov­ing to dump plas­tic straws. McDon­ald’s is also pledg­ing to use only re­cy­cled or other en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ma­te­ri­als for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other pack­ag­ing by 2025. Dunkin’ Donuts vows to elim­i­nate poly­styrene foam cups by 2020. Ikea plans to elim­i­nate sin­gle-use plas­tic prod­ucts by 2020.

We hope the Kroger move en­cour­ages even more com­pa­nies to fol­low suit.

To save the planet’s oceans and lakes, how­ever, com­pa­nies and con­sumers will need to do more than swear off plas­tic bags and straws. Waste han­dling sys­tems have to im­prove world­wide, par­tic­u­larly in coun­tries that now strug­gle to deal with plas­tic lit­ter. The prime mover here is ris­ing pub­lic aware­ness — and a re­sult­ing will­ing­ness of many among us to make mod­est lifestyle changes. Some stores even re­ward cus­tomers with cash back or other bonuses to forgo plas­tic bags.

Stash a few re­us­able bags in the trunk. Use them. Once you get into the habit, you’ll be sur­prised how quickly you for­get that you ever re­lied on out-of-fash­ion plas­tic.

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