Creating a new habit worthwhile
Last updated 3/4/2020 at 4:24pm | View PDF
Changing habits can be difficult, especially when it's a choice and not something that is forced upon you.
When I first lived in Belgium more than 30 years ago, the grocery store provided single-use plastic bags, and I used them. But a combination of factors, including extensive government campaigns about the environmental impact of these bags that made me feel guilty and bag taxes that made me not want to pay for them, changed my habits. I assembled a favorite collection of reusable bags that were always kept in the car, ready for my next grocery run.
Here in and around Hinsdale, the bags are thrust upon me at checkout, whether it's at a big chain supermarket or a smaller grocery.
"Paper or plastic" is often the only choice I'll get. I'm never asked if I actually need the bag and have seen people handed a single piece of fruit in one.
I bring my own bags because it's a habit and because I think it's important. Whether they're paper or plastic, disposable bags do cause environmental damage. This takes different forms, from the pollution caused by making paper bags to the remains of plastic bags that can linger in landfills or float in our waterways for literally 1,000 years.
In 2017, the city of Chicago put a 7 percent tax on all paper and plastic checkout bags. This certainly changed habits; for example use of single-use bags fell from 82 percent of Chicagoans each shopping trip to 49 percent after just one month of the tax.
Research suggests strongly that it's the cost, not the environmental arguments, that change these habits. But noticing the cost also makes us mindful of the impact of these bags.
Perhaps that's one reason why Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed a 5-cent bag tax and a bag tax bill has been submitted by State Rep. Ann Williams in Springfield. Taxes may not be the most effective way.
Like many European Union member states and California, New York state banned single-use bags completely on March 1, 2020.
Whether or not there's a tax or ban, I'm bringing my bags because it's already my habit. Don't wait for someone to cajole or force you into doing it. Make it your habit today.
- Beth Smits of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected]