BARRINGTON, R.I. (AP) — Answering the question ‘paper or plastic’ could get a lot easier in one Rhode Island town if local leaders support a call to ban plastic shopping bags.
Hundreds of residents and more than a dozen business owners in Barrington are pushing to scrap the sacks, which they say take up valuable landfill space and litter streets, streams and shorelines. But critics — including an alliance of plastic bag manufacturers — say prohibiting the ubiquitous bags would only reduce consumers’ options while doing nothing to help the environment.
The Barrington Town Council voted on Monday to direct the town’s solicitor to draft a proposed ban. The move follows a recommendation by the town’s Conservation Commission to prohibit plastic shopping bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bag. Under that recommendation, shoppers could also purchase paper bags for 5 cents each.
“It wouldn’t be a big deal to me,” said Linda Alves, who was shopping for home office supplies Wednesday in Barrington, an affluent town 20 minutes from Providence. Alves opened the trunk of her car and pulled out two reusable bags. “I have so many of these things, who needs the plastic?”
San Francisco was the first U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags back in 2007. Several cities have followed, including Los Angeles and Seattle. The bags are banned throughout Hawaii. Westport, Conn. is the only New England community with such a ban.
“It’s a matter of changing habits, and that’s not always easy,” said Jonathan Cunitz, a member of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting and an advocate for the ban, which went into effect in 2009. “But people are now more conscious of the environment and we don’t see plastic bags on the street or on our waterfront.”
But an organization founded by plastics manufacturers to fight proposed bans argues that outlawing the bags could threaten more than 30,000 plastic bag manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Donna Dempsey, spokeswoman for the Washington D.C.-based American Progressive Bag Alliance, said the plastic bag has gotten a bad rap.
The organic farming debate is about more than just yields
Yields from organic farming may not match those produced by farmers who use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, but there are other good reasons to buy and support organic — its health benefits, the good that it does for farm workers, even its animal-welfare rules.
So, at least, say executives of the Organic Trade Association, a Washington-based group that represents about 6,500 organic farmers, producers, retailers and suppliers.
“Yield is only one window into organic farming,” says Laura Batcha, executive vice president of the trade group. Organic farming is “good for the environment. It’s good for local economies. It’s good for the farmer incomes.” A 2008 USDA survey of organic production found that organic farms had average annual sales of $217,675, compared to the $134,807 average for U.S. farms overall. Overall, the U.S. organic industry, including fiber as well as food, generated about $31 billion in 2011, up from just $1 billion in 1990. Despite the U.S.’s sluggish economy, organic food and farming remain growth businesses.
I went to see Laura and Christine Bushway, who is CEO of the organic trade group, at their offices on Capitol Hill to talk about several issues, including the push to require labels on food containing genetically modified organisms, the Farm Bill and food safety, including a recent incident of mad cow disease in California. But we talked a lot about yields because it’s in the news: A recent survey of 66 research studies published in Nature, which found that organic yields lag those of conventional farming, has stirred up a bit of a brouhaha. [See my blog post Organic food is not as green as you think, and the comments.]