Op-ed: Time to just say no to plastic bags

Published May 9, 2014 3:44 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Stuck on a willow branch outside of my living room window are the fluttering, flapping shreds of a plastic bag. It's been there for months, too high for me to reach. It taunts and waves, like the beige plastic flag of convenience.

You've seen others like it, sailing across lanes of traffic, snagged in trees, fences, and fields, or sliding silently down creeks and flooded roadsides. Plastic bags, much like take-out containers and plastic water bottles, are single-use items, meaning they're designed to be used once, disposed of, and forgotten.

At best, they're recycled into more bags or plastic lumber. At worst, they blow out of your car, your garbage bin, or off the top of the landfill. They wave, wiggle and wander their way into every nook and cranny of civilized and uncivilized life. Despite their prevalence, or perhaps because of it, we ignore them.

Most people don't even know that plastic bags can be recycled, either at grocery stores or at drop-off centers. Others don't realize that all kinds of plastic wrapping and film and bags can be recycled, not just the two-handled variety. Others still don't know that a majority of the bags you put in the recycling bins don't make it all the way to becoming something new. If they aren't bagged together or tied in knots, they tend to blow away before ever making it to a facility. In commingled, or single-stream curbside recycling, loose bags can gum up the sorting and processing machines.

Recycling is a great idea, but it doesn't work well for everything. Like cigarettes and high-fructose corn syrup, some things we just need to cut back on, no matter how addicted we are.

I'd wager that few people know that the Park City and Summit County councils actually passed a joint resolution "encouraging the utilization of reusable bags" in August, 2013. It's an official way of sounding like something's being done, when really they're just maintaining the status quo. It's like saying, "Hey guys, let's try to do better, okay?" No carrot, no stick, no teeth.

It's time to quit plastic bags. Bans and fees already affect 20 million people in towns, cities and counties across the country. It's going to come to us eventually, so why not get a head start?

If Dallas, Texas, can support a 5-cent bag fee (yes, Dallas! A petroleum industry hub!), and Austin can get behind a bag ban, I think Salt Lake City can handle it.

And Park City, even with your reusable bag resolution, you're seriously lagging behind some of your biggest rival towns, like Aspen, Telluride, Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Santa Fe. Believe it or not, tourists who are seeking out mountain activities, film festivals and art havens also enjoy having views untarnished by the modern-day tumbleweed. So put some teeth into your next resolution and make a real difference.

When we discuss a plastic bag ban, we're not talking about an all-out war against anything remotely convenient or useful. We're talking about cutting back on a substance that is doing more harm than good, and one that we can do without. So unless you want to salute that beige plastic flag waving from the bushes, it's time we said 'no' to plastic bags.

Katie Plumb holds a master of science degree in environmental humanities from the University of Utah, and is an affiliate of Recycle Utah, Park City's non-profit drop-off recycling center.




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