It took me a long time to kick my addiction to plastic grocery bags. Years. Even after I dutifully acquired cloth carriers, I often would be halfway to the store before I realized I had left them in the car. I’d keep walking.
Addiction to convenience and bad habits are hard things to break. I finally did the right thing not long before Connecticut put a price on using unsustainable plastic grocery bags in August: ten whole cents per offending sack.
I’d be damned if I was going to pay that fee, while contributing to global degradation in the bargain. I come from a long line of frugal ancestors, on both sides, Catholic and Protestant. Ten cents cemented my conversion to cloth.
When I forget my cloth bags now, usually while shopping small, I gather up my purchases in my arms (after filling my pockets), and hope for the best. My scorn now extends to those still free paper bags. I’m all in.
In theory, the 10-cent fee gives uncommitted shoppers a choice while raising money for my fiscally challenged state. Maybe the revenue will mitigate the annual assault Hartford makes on the budget of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The assumption was that all those dimes would add up to $27 million a year. But then the unexpected happened, as it often does: large supermarkets simply stopped offering plastic bags. The prospect of grumpy customers inspired Stop & Shop and others to do the right thing.
Amazing what ten cents can accomplish.
It’s a small victory for our planet, to be sure, but small victories count, especially when the man we put in the White House is pursuing large policies that are accelerating the degradation of the biosphere that we are leaving to his descendants and ours.
Plastic, which is made from fossil fuels, remains a growing blight on land and sea, where as many as 100,000 creatures are being killed each year by contact with floating debris, according to Surfers Against Sewage. Less clear are the long-term effects that minute particles of plastic being ingested by fish, turtles, whales, seals, and seabirds are having of their populations.
What fish eat moves up the food chain and into our bodies.
Here’s what relentless growth and ingrained bad habits have wrought in just this one measure of our planetary health: in 1950, the world’s population was 2.5 billion and it produced 1.5 million tons of plastic; today three times as many humans are making upwards of 320 million tons of plastic a year — more than 200 times as much.
National Geographic reports that only about 10 percent of plastic waste has been recycled; another fraction is incinerated, but a great deal of the persistent stuff just hangs around, under some conditions for decades or even centuries.
But let’s move beyond impersonal statistics, shall we?
Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, between San Francisco and Honolulu, you will find the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling conglomeration of mostly plastic debris that is twice the size of Texas, and, of course, expanding every year. It is not only toxic to seagoing species—it can damage and disable boats.
Ten cents seems a small price to pay to make the world a little better, or less worse.
And if you and I want to leave our children and grandchildren a world that approximates the one we were born into, we are going to have to do more. Nobody likes to pay more or change their habits, but we can pay now — or our children can pay later. And the price down the road will not simply be monetary.
Extreme weather incidents caused by global warming, such as powerful hurricanes and wildfires, are growing more frequent, dangerous and costly. The ten major ones this year caused $1 billion each in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the bill for Western wildfires over the past two years was $40 billion.
What’s the solution? Change a bad habit today. Vote for candidates who value protecting our environment. Support your local land trust or other conservation organizations.
Doing the right thing isn’t free, or convenient, but you’ll feel better in the morning. Besides, we have been borrowing against our children’s’ future long enough.
David Holahan is a freelance writer living in East Haddam.