When seat belts were first installed in cars, not many people wore them. After it was mandated and an enforced law that they must be worn, the number of deaths due to car accidents went down significantly.
Many people are aware that plastic bags have negative effects on the environment, but reusable bags are still not the popular choice. Disposable bags have been the way we have carried our products out of the store for the past few decades.
As an environmentalist and community member, Dr. Sherri Mason has proposed a fee on disposable bags for the Fredonia and Dunkirk areas. The proposed fee would initially start at ten cents for all single-use bags (including paper as well as plastic).
Ten percent of the money would be kept by the businesses and 90 percent would go into the Northern Chautauqua Community foundation.
Dr. Mason emphasized that keeping the money local was an important part of the initiative. “This fund is already in existence and already has money in it,” Mason said. “The whole groundwork of the fund is already in place, we’re just going to contribute to it, and therefore have more money that we can use in the community.”
Mason started the idea a few years ago by approaching Walmart first. Their initiative to ban plastic bags started off slow in all of their stores. “They have three stores in California that don’t have bags,” Mason said. “They have the reusable bags that you can either buy or bring in.”
She then approached the rotary clubs which are largely comprised of businesses. She found that this business community was very supportive of the idea.
“If we’re going to do this, I wanted to be a grass roots; get people aware, get them involved,” Mason said. “Bolstered by everyone being very receptive to the idea, I went to the village board, the village of Fredonia, and they were very receptive to the idea, but it has to be a joint thing, between Dunkirk and Fredonia.”
As consumers, we will still pay for plastic bags in other ways, though they are free at the store.
“There’s real money associated with plastic bags right now. They cost the businesses money. That’s rolled into the food you buy,” Mason said. “So even though I bring my reusable plastic bags to the store I’m paying for everyone one else’s plastic bag.”
In addition to paying for them in the store, shoppers end up paying in their communities as well. Plastic bags are consistently getting stuck in fences or being flushed down toilets and polluting the waste water treatment facilities. There is a cost for hiring people to clean those things up.
When she approached Dunkirk officials with the idea of using sustainable material, Mason ran into hesitation. Dunkirk natives, being from an economically depressed area, were at first wary of supporting the initiative, afraid of burdening people that are already suffering financially. To accomodate to their needs, Mason added two free reusable bags to certain families in her proposal. This included families on food stamps.
The proposal, still in it’s early stages, has a proposed fee increase; one of the ideas proposed includes a double every year but would freeze at one dollar after five years. This way, when people went shopping they would have their choice of the reusable bag or a plastic bag that would be equal in price. This would create more incentive for people to remember their reusable bags.
Though the public has become more aware of environmental issues such as the overuse of plastic bags, not everyone has incorporated the change into their lifestyle.
Mason explained that even if it is possible to recycle everything an individual takes in, that person still creates waste. Even if an individual does everything he or she possibly can, changes must take place on a larger scale.
“As we change, businesses will respond to that, but not all of it,” Mason said. “I think that’s where legislation has to have a place here; I think most people know that they shouldn’t be using plastic bags, but they forget.”
The proposal has not been voted on yet but if it is passed, the fees will begin to be implemented in January of 2015.