I love walking my dog.  She is earnest and excited about life, and every morning is an adventure when we leave the front door.  One of the big tasks of our routine is picking up the trash that blew into our neighborhood overnight from the nearby grocery store and fast food restaurants.  A few coupon flyers, a cup or two, maybe even a sandwich wrapper.  But without fail, there are always plastic bags.

Single-use plastic bags have been an important part of the development of our culture.  They are a cheap and effective manner of transporting food from the grocery or convenience store.  They are low in cost and high in flexibility.  They even protect cars from melting ice cream and condensation from cold items on a summer day.  But after we use them, where do they go?  Many go to the landfill, but lots of them can be found blowing about our neighborhoods or in our streams, rivers, and lakes.  They can be found in our water treatment centers and populating farm fields on the outskirts of town.  They can even be found in our wildlife and in the most pristine and untouched locations on earth.

Thankfully, we have a better option: reusable shopping bags.  Arguably one of the most pervasive freebie or giveaway gifts in today’s organizational and event planning sphere, reusable shopping bags are everywhere.  Some (especially the resourceful-to-a-fault people who have a difficult time parting ways with perfectly useful goods) might even say they have too many reusable shopping bags.  So why is it we still head to our stores only to leave with a plastic shopping bag that will likely head right to the trash after we get home?  Why do we get a plastic bag for one or two items?  I think the answer to those questions is convenience and a lack of awareness.

How do we move beyond plastic bags here in Minot?  I believe that our best path forward to a city free of plastic bag litter could look like this:

A Three Year Plan to Reduce Single-Use Plastic Bags in Minot

It should first be noted that this plan has exemptions.  Meats, chemicals, and cleaning supplies should always be bagged separately with a plastic bag free of charge.  Plastic produce bags will need to stick around for a few more years too.  There are some reliable reusable produce bags that are easy to wash, but they aren’t as readily available as reusable shopping bags.  Some stores have reusable bag incentive programs that give customers a 5 cent discount for bringing their own bags, but I don’t mention that in my plan because that decision should be made by each business (and not be a burden to them).

  1. January 1, Year One – All stores and restaurants that use single-use plastic bags are now required to ask customers ”Would you like a bag for this?” every time they check out.
  2. January 1, Year Two – All stores offering single-use plastic bags are now required to charge 2 cents for the purchase of the bag.  The bag fee can be kept by the vendor as a financial windfall or can be collected by the City of Minot to be used for any number of projects (possibly litter remediation or cost-saving efficiency improvements?)
  3. January 1, Year Three – All stores offering single-use plastic shopping bags are now required to charge 5 cents for the purchase of the bag.  Same use of the fee applies.
  4. January 1, Year Four and Beyond – As with all good public policy, review and revision should take place.  What stays from the plan and what gets changed or discarded?

Planning for a one year buffer before any fees begin is crucial.  Humans can be pretty slow to changing our actions and thinking, especially when there is not an immediate threat breathing down our backs like lava.  Or dinosaurs…  A year of asking Minot residents if they want a bag will raise awareness to our consumption and should significantly reduce new plastic bag use.  Also, this plan will always have plastic bags available to people if they need them.  The fee is low enough to not be an undue burden on any person but high enough to make it worthwhile to remember to put those reusable bags back in the car after we unload them.

Those are my thoughts.  I will leave them here for individuals and community leaders to read and hopefully act upon.  By working together, we can reduce our plastic bag usage and keep our community clean.  I look forward to the day when the only thing I pick up on our morning walk is a present from the dog 🙂

Comments

  1. Josh Wolsky

    Hey Tim,
    As regular participant in the Friends of the Souris river cleanups, there’s no single item picked off our river banks and out of our river more often. I’ve stood in one spot, went down to pick up a plastic bag only to discover another plastic bag directly under the first one. It becomes a bit sickening after a while.

    And I like the non-mandated but incentivized approach. It’s something we have to think about especially as we get closer to recycling. Plastic bags are the number one problem contaminant in recycling streams. The muck up the sorting equipment and cost everyone money. Yes, they’re convenient, but I’m not sure that convenience outweighs the full and true costs if we’re willing to acknowledge them.
    Respectfully,
    Josh Wolsky

  2. Brad Magnuson

    I think 3 years is far too long to implement this, cut it to one year. The city should put its foot down, and say “this is going to happen in one year”. I think dragging it out for 3 years, just gives people an excuse not to comply. If you shorten it to one year, people will be more apt to adhere to the deadline.

    1. Tim Baumann Post author

      Thanks for sharing your input Brad. Ultimately it will be up to our elected and appointed leaders to consider the needs of all of the people of Minot and decide what will be the best path for moving forward on this topic. I agree, having a quicker timeline would work for me, but I am not the other 48,742 Minot residents, so I advocate for a slower change that we can all hopefully get behind.

Tim Baumann, The Practical Environmentalist,

I'm an advocate for our environment who tries to think about solutions in ways that are realistic and achievable.