Reusable bag

As summer begins to fade and signs of fall loom nearer, we find ourselves taking that one last trip, whether it is away to the beach, off to college or just to the store for school supplies (and maybe some early pumpkin-spice products).

Do you BYOB on these trips? By that, of course, I mean bring your own bag. Take a minute to count how many plastic bags you see in trees or on the roadside on your next local drive. You will probably get up to 10 or 15 before you stop counting in disappointment. That’s more bags than you will see turtles crossing the street or dolphins offshore on your beach trip.

When did this all begin? Plastic sandwich bags were first introduced in 1957. Department stores began using plastic bags in the 1970s, and supermarket chains introduced them in the early 1980s. It now takes approximately 12 million barrels of oil to produce the 100 billion plastic bags Americans use each year. Plastic bags are hazardous to whales, seals, turtles, seabirds and other marine animals as they are mistaken for food by these creatures.

Nowadays, the average American family brings home 1,500 plastic bags per year. Many people reuse their plastic bags for other trash or dog waste, but it can be a challenge to reuse that many bags! They are not able to go into your curbside recycling bins, but fortunately recycling options are available at most chain grocery stores. Right now, less than 20 percent of plastic bags get recycled, though. That is why they are still a large part of the litter on our streets and in our waters.

Here in Atlantic County, many towns have programs to educate residents about reusable bags. The Township of Hamilton provides their local merchants with a limited amount of reusable bags to distribute to their customers and hands them out at community events. Galloway Township does the same and presents reusable bag PSAs in their local grocery store. Two years ago, Longport became the first New Jersey town to regulate plastic bag use, requiring a fee to be charged by retailers offering plastic bags. The fee is kept by the retailer and offsets their costs to provide the bags. Nationwide, larger cities are now jumping in on the action. New York City, Chicago and San Francisco are notable participants in either a bag ban or fee requirement.

There are great reasons to bring your own bags. They are sturdy, carrying heavier items with ease, and usually they are easy to find for free at local community events. Keep them in your vehicle so you don’t forget them on your way to the market. Keep a small one handy for the convenience store or just refuse a bag for purchases you can carry on your own. If everyone plays a small part, maybe we’ll see more turtles and dolphins than bags in the trees soon.

Sustainable Township of Hamilton Green Team meets 6:30 p.m. the first Thursday of the month at Township Hall, conference Room A. All are welcome. Bring your ideas and concerns.

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