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Our View: Plastic ban

Law ridding stores and restaurants of bags and containers will help environment

One long overdue bill that finally made it out of the state Legislature in the 2021 session and received the governor’s signature is a new law that will ultimately ban single-use plastic and paper bags and expanded polystyrene (e.g., Styrofoam) containers. The Herald endorsed HB 21-1162 earlier this year.

The bill provides for a two-step process. Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, all stores that offer plastic or paper bags will have to impose a minimum 10-cent fee per bag (unless a local government opts to increase that amount). The fee is intended to encourage us to take our own recycled bags to the store. Numerous studies have shown this financial disincentive is very effective.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, all single-use plastic bags will be banned, with a few exceptions for restaurants and to make implementation easier. Expanded polystyrene containers also will be banned after Jan. 1, 2024. (Presumably, paper bags will continue to be available, for the 10-cent fee.)

Another incentive for restaurateurs and store owners to comply is that they’ll get to keep 40% of the bag fees; the other 60% goes to local governments for enforcement costs and waste diversion efforts, including education.

This is a win-win-win: The people win, as we all do our part to slow climate change and protect the environment and our health from the dangers of plastic; local governments win, as waste will be reduced, on the landscape and in our landfills (oh, for the day when no plastic bags fly from barbed-wire fences in the beautiful middle of nowhere); and retailers and restaurants win, receiving part of the fees.

But we need not wait for January 2023 to start using our recycled bags.

Those of us who have grown accustomed to such laws in other states can’t imagine why people would want to take home all those extra plastic and paper bags anyway. It’s much more fun to collect recycled bags with interesting designs, carry them as tongue-in-cheek status symbols and even give them as gifts to others. Some stores have made recycled bags part of their marketing: Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s manufacture decorative site-specific bags for every locale in which they operate. At a couple of bucks a pop, that’s a cheap collectible.

More importantly, when we use recycled bags (or stainless-steel straws, or handkerchiefs instead of tissues) we can feel gratified that we are doing our part, however small, to care for the environment.

Perhaps even more important than our own gratification is the very real fact that we are acting in the best interests of our community, our country and our planet.

For those of us who have lived in the drought-ridden West for much of our lives, saving water has become second nature. We squeeze toothpaste on the brush, pass it under the water spigot and then turn off the water while we brush. Some of us follow the slogan, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” to save toilet flushes. We water the lawn only after 6 p.m. and before 10 a.m., so we lose less precious H2O to evaporation.

One could almost guess where a person hails from by water behaviors. A friend of ours in another state turns on the water in the kitchen, then leaves it running while doing other cooking activities. It’s just a bad habit, practiced out of lack of awareness. Having never lived in an arid landscape where every public restroom has a “help us save water” sign, she just doesn’t get it.

But she will – eventually.

Once we alter our behavior – as simply as carrying recycled bags to tote our groceries home in – it can be hard to believe we ever did otherwise.

So let’s all get on this bus together, before the law forces us to.

Oh, and Fido’s waste? Compostable, eco-friendly poop bags are now available.

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