Personal Essay: Bagging the plastic habit

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 11:30am

On Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m., The Nature Conservancy and the Island Free Library will be showing the film “Bag It.” This, jointly presented, documentary tells the story of how one man, Jeb Berrier, came to the conclusion that he had to bag his plastic habit, and he starts by removing — the totally unnecessary — use of plastic bags in his life.

“Bag It” is humorous, thought-provoking, and informative. According to film critic Richard Propes, the film “is a blending of interviews, archival footage, creative graphics and Berrier’s own antics into an argument that is well presented in a way that is quite easily understood even for the non-scientific mind. ‘Bag It’ has been wildly successful on the film festival circuit having received several audience awards and other jury prizes.”

This film is having a showing just a week before the Town Council takes up — and hopefully votes to approve — a town ordinance that will ban the use of single-use carry out plastic bags. 

Block Island is known for its conservation efforts and initiatives to protect the environment, which of course includes the critters that are part of the ecosystems being protected. As Steve McQueeny has already pointed out, these efforts included funding a No Discharge regulation to protect the Great Salt Pond, and an ordinance prohibiting the use of detergents with phosphates. The Town’s General Ordinances also prohibit the use of gasoline or diesel-powered motors on ponds; and, the Town’s Comprehensive Community Plan sets a goal of 50 percent open space. There are any number of environment-based rules, regulations, and policies adopted by this community. And, a ban on carry-out plastic bags should be the next one. We are a community that thrives on its conservation and environment-friendly identity. And, we are lagging behind by not yet having put in place a ban on carry-out plastic bags.

The arguments that enforcement is not included in the draft ordinance is a red-herring: in Chapters 1 and 10 of the Town Ordinances, fines and enforcement relating to all of the Town’s ordinances are covered.

The fact that Stop & Shop’s Peapod program sends too many plastic bags to our shores is an opportunity to communicate with both the store, and the community of Narragansett, especially, as they also consider a ban on single use plastic bags. And, one can always return the plastic bags in the Peapod container. 

The various reasons put forth at the Town Council’s Public Hearing to slow down or stop adoption of the proposed ordinance are hollow. 

Banning single-use plastic bags on Block Island is more than symbolic. Hundreds of thousands of plastic bags — maybe millions — will be removed from the waste stream of this island. Every positive gain in life starts with small, seemingly inconsequential actions. As each town in the state, then state in the region, moves to banning single-use plastic bags, and encourages personal responsibility for providing your own — reusable — carry-out bag, it becomes true that each and every town makes a difference. 

Join others for the showing of “Bag It” the film, where a lot can be learned about the prevalence of plastic in our lives; and, support our Town Council to make the right decision and bag the distribution of single use, carry-out plastic bags on Block Island.

Kim Gaffett is The Nature Conservancy’s OVF Naturalist.