Commentary by Bill Buchanan
People in Ojai are not shy about sharing their opinions. As a newspaper publisher, this is a dream come true. It makes for lively debate on the editorial pages as well as our online blog. Along that line, few issues have generated as much reader response as the proposed ban on plastic bags now under consideration by the City Council.
Earlier this week, I printed out 12 pages of blog comments devoted to the proposed ban. Those on both sides are passionate. Some voiced environmental concerns about the bags. Others resented being told what to do, and threatened to take their grocery business to stores outside of Ojai.
There are relevant points on both sides. Plastic bags are handy for lining my trash can and taking to the farmers’ markets, but they are also a giant pain. Like coat hangers, they seem to multiply on their own. One day you have three bags, a week later you have 57, and suddenly they are taking over your pantry.
Plastic bags are not good for the environment. But as several people pointed out, they are probably not as bad as the heavier grade plastic bag many of us would use in their place to line our trash cans. Another consideration is that Ojai is a tourist destination. Since most people do not carry their reusable canvas bags with them on vacation, what are they going to put their groceries in when they come in for supplies? Do we really want our local stores to charge folks 10 cents a bag for paper bags? Is that the message we want to send to our visitors?
There is also an enforcement issue with the ban. For instance, are we going to have plastic bag police scouring stores to catch offenders? Are we going to station undercover cops at the Farmers’ Market to “rough and cuff” those scofflaws who dare to put their blueberries in a plastic bag?
As with many environmental issues there seems to be no easy answer, no magic bullet that solves all our problems. I prefer the canvas bags for shopping. They are heavier, and hold more items. I would much rather carry three or four heavier bags than have to deal with 10 flimsy plastic ones. There is nothing to throw away, and they are useful for carrying things other than groceries — like when I take 10 or 12 novels back down to Bart’s Books to exchange for new ones. One problem I have is remembering to carry them with me to the store. I probably have 10 reusable bags, but they seem to herd themselves into the pantry, not into the van where I really need them.
As evidenced on the blog, people don’t like the word “ban,” and many have a negative reaction to it. We already have a myriad of rules and regulations governing our actions. People simply resent being told what to do and what not to do. I contacted a very environmentally conscious friend who was a source for this column. I asked him about the ban. He felt it was a little extreme. I thought he put it beautifully when he said, “This angers people for marginal (environmental) gains.”
So here is a thought — how about instead of a ban, we simply encourage the use of reusable bags? The city could issue a statement, stating that they support their use, and local stores could post signs encouraging shoppers to do the same. It might make a nice project for one of the art classes to have kids design clever and colorful signs to post inside and outside local stores advocating the bags, and reminding people to use them. A lot of this is habit. If you get into the habit of putting the bags back in your car after you empty them, then they are always accessible the next time you make a trip to the store.
Ojai is the most environmentally aware place in which I have ever lived. I really believe people would make the effort to shop with reusable bags if encouraged, rather than brow-beaten, to do so. Why not try it?
If it doesn’t work, the council can always vote to ban the bags later on.