North

THE ARGUMENT

Should Gloucester ban the retail use of plastic bags?

YES

Melissa Cox

Ward 2 City Councilor, candidate for councilor at large

Melissa Cox

There are two sides to every argument, right? Yet when you stack the advantages against the disadvantages, there really isn’t a good reason to oppose a ban of disposable plastic bags. The reality of plastic bags is that while they are in fact recyclable, only a small percentage find their way into a recycling bin.

Most plastic bags end up in landfills or as litter. And there is no denying that plastic bags do not safely break down and that it costs money to pick up litter. Opponents of a ban attempt to diminish the harmful and damaging effects of their use. But their arguments simply do not hold up to the actual facts.

Here are some of those facts, which counter contentions that I have come across from opponents in my years of trying to get this passed in Gloucester.

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1. Stores have to factor in the cost of disposable bags into their prices. By eliminating plastic bags, stores can lower prices, helping shoppers save the $18 to $30 annually.

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2. Plastic bags are not biodegradable. When plastics bags become litter, they pollute oceans, rivers, farmlands, cities, and neighborhoods. I understand that not every bag becomes litter but when it does, it has the power to kill wildlife and become costly to remove.

3. Plastic litter often clogs drainage systems, causing unnecessary flooding. Without bags, they run more efficiently. Bans eliminate bags, which equals less litter and less pollution.

4. Banning plastic bags will allow for tax money to be redirected to more important needs in the city. Marine life will face fewer plastic hazards: marine animals often mistake plastic bags as jellyfish or plankton, leading them to consume the plastic and become ill or die. If it doesn’t kill the marine life, it can become part of the food chain: what they eat, you eat. That horrifies me: I love seafood and being in a coastal fishing town I eat a lot of seafood.

We have not had plastic bags long enough to know what the long-term effects can be to our soil, our marine life, or our bodies. But from what we already know, why take the chance when you can make the change?

NO

Robert Whynott

Resident, former city councilor, former city clerk, current candidate for councilor at large

Robert Whynott
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The main reason given for the potential plastic bag ban is that some of the bags get thrown around, and blown into trees or the ocean, which can be harmful to sea life and birds. I agree with the Gloucester Clean City Commission and other environmentalists that this is a problem.

However, I believe that litter is the real problem of which plastic bags are only one small part. If you were to visit Toronto, Montreal, or our sister city of Tamano, Japan, as I have, you would notice a remarkable lack of litter. This is also true of some of our cities, notably in the South and Southwest.

Gloucester has never really addressed the problem of litter, other than raising fines that rarely if ever get levied. We need a combination of education, starting in the schools, and a willingness to enforce our litter laws.The downside of the ban is the effect it will have on our citizens, particularly our elderly, who are largely opposed to the ban.

What happens to the plastic bags once the consumer is through with them? They can be disposed of in our regular trash, which is burned in an incinerator that makes electricity without fossil fuels and emits a clean exhaust. If you don’t want to throw them away, you can bring them back to the supermarkets. The litterers are a small minority and we need to deal with them.

The plastic bags are a boon to the elderly, some of whom go shopping every day, returning home with one bag hanging from each hand, with a couple of items in each one. Meats, ice cream, and other leaky items are placed in small plastic bags and then placed in the checkout bags.

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Many of the elderly, myself included, put multiple bags on both hands or loop them over forearms so that we can minimize trips up the stairs. When things leak into paper bags or you stage them on your walkway and it rains, you know what happens.

Before banning these bags, go to your senior center and find out how much of a hardship this will be.

Please deal with the real problem. LITTER!

Last week’s argument: Should NFL players be punished for kneeling during the national anthem?

No: 52.4% (109 votes)

Yes: 47.6% (99 votes)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.