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UNF Spinnaker

Paper or plastic? Go with canvas bags

It may seem that Ricky Fitts might be alone in his opinion of a fluttering plastic bag on a California asphalt-scape as — the most beautiful thing — (‘American Beauty,’ anyone?). In fact, quite the contrary seems to be a developing worldwide trend as more and more areas are imposing taxes on non-reusable bags.

Ireland passed a law in 2002 instituting a 33 cents per bag tax. Irish citizens increasingly found the taxed bags as not only an environmental threat, but also unfashionable and uncouth, according to The New York Times.

San Francisco and Seattle have instated similar taxes, and Los Angeles plans to do the same.

But what about Jacksonville?

”I don’t think we’re anywhere near [that],” said Daniel Parker, sustainability director for the Division of Environmental Health within the Florida Department of Health.

Parker said he thought the movement would have to take more of a grassroots approach with stores like Whole Foods Market taking progressive moves toward eliminating plastic bags’ widespread use. The organic grocery store discontinued distribution of plastic bags April 2008, according to sustainableisgood.com. Jacksonville-based Native Sun Natural Foods also offers small discounts on purchases when customers bring their own bags.

Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, a petroleum product. Polyethylene, according to Suite101.com, a news Web site, takes about 1,000 years to break down and decompose.

Although depositories to recycle plastic bags are sprinkled throughout Jacksonville, people often slip up when it comes to excluding materials like cling wrap and prepackaged food bags, according to plasticbagrecycling.org, contaminating the rest of the load and disqualifying it for recycling. According to the same Suite101.com article, of the 100 trillion plastic bags distributed annually, only 1 percent are recycled.

“[The tax] would be a more localized movement,” Parker said.

He said small steps need to occur first within smaller communities before Florida can hope to instate a similar tax on plastic bags.

“I think a lot of people [would] be pissed if they did that in Florida,” senior international studies major Achille Tolliver said. “But then they’d be aware. You have to get people pissed off to get them to pay attention.”

Krista Paulsen, an associate professor of sociology specializing in urban and environmental sociology, said cloth bags just need to become more ingrained into people’s grocery shopping habits.

“It’s become routine to see these reusable bags,” Paulsen said. “We have to change our ideas about what’s easy, what’s convenient.”

Paulsen said she thinks part of the problem is that American society has grown to value convenience so much that many are willing to pay for it. Although, she explained that with large family visits to the grocery store, a possible tax could really add up and demand notice.

“In general, I think when you create financial incentives to behave in a particular way, [there] can be pay-off,” Paulsen said.

Regarding plastic bags’ secondary uses as trash can liners and dispensaries for pet waste, Paulsen said people should consider other options.

Instead of purchasing additional plastic bags for such purposes (if the grocery kind are in fact phased out, that is), perhaps people will find innovative alternative sources.

“We need to rethink all those plastic bags’ usage,” Paulsen said. “Let’s keep working toward better.”

Although the recent canvas bags’ slow saturation into the American cultural norm, it’s been slow. Parker and Paulsen said perhaps more grand-scale movements to eliminate plastic bags in Florida will take some time, but it’s not an entirely futile effort.

“We don’t have to accept things the way they are,” Paulsen said.

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