Pretty Lawns and Gardens: Medford’s proposed bag ban does not go far enough

An Oct. 17 Daily article reported that Medford will likely be joining neighboring municipalities in implementing a partial plastic bag ban, affecting “thin film” plastic bags, by the end of the year. I’m always excited when a state or municipality takes the initiative to protect our environment, but in Medford’s case, I’m disappointed. Though it is certainly a step in the right direction, by allowing the continued use of heavier plastic bags for bagging meat and other wet materials, Medford will still prioritize consumer convenience over community and environmental well-being.

The purpose of a plastic bag ban is to remove hazardous materials from circulation and prevent them from entering our ecosystems, watersheds and landfills. A law like that under consideration here in our community fails by including a rather arbitrary exemption for plastic bags used to bag bulk items, frozen foods or meat, or wet materials. By creating this law, Medford should effectively be guiding business owners and customers to make communally beneficial decisions, but this gaping hole in the proposed ordinance does not provide that encouragement. A conscientious consumer already brings reusable canvas or insulated shopping bags to the store, and these bags are capable of safely holding the meat and wet materials Medford is concerned about protecting. But this law, while penalizing shopkeepers for providing bags, fails to address the need for conscientious consumers, and by exempting heavier plastic bags, doesn’t force the consumers to seriously adjust their behavior as much as the merchants.

I’ve made it clear that I believe the proposed ban doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t incentivize conscientious consumerism, and it penalizes business owners who are only responding to a lack of conscientious consumerism by providing disposable plastic bags. So what adjustments could Medford make in order to create standards rather than follow regional trends with minor adjustments?

A complete ban on plastic bags should, as this ordinance does, come with increasing levels of fines for merchants that fail to comply. Along with this, however, tax incentives should be offered to businesses that go above and beyond, such as businesses that source recycled paper bags or those that give discounts to consumers who bring their own bag. A pass-along tax incentive in that vein would benefit merchants and encourage conscientious consumerism.

While perhaps these suggestions could improve Medford’s ordinance, I believe none would be effective without a complete ban on plastic bags. Business owners could easily avoid the ban by purchasing thicker bags, and there should be no exceptions simply because a consumer forgot the proper shopping equipment — a canvas bag — and now wants to buy something that would ruin a paper bag — frozen food slowly defrosting. Ban the bags, and a cleaner economy will follow. People have been shopping longer than plastic bags have existed. Please, Medford, be a leader on this issue, and show our neighbors that it is possible to clean up our local economy.