ORLEANS — Philip Scholomiti calls them “the flotsam and jetsam of our planet.”
Writing to the board of health earlier this year, the Orleans resident said that flimsy single-use plastic bags “mar our highways, clog our storm drains, slowly leach their chemicals into the soil contaminating our food chain, and devastate the animals that inhabit our oceans, bays, and ponds.”
Scholomiti called on the health board to follow the example of Barnstable, Chatham, Falmouth, Harwich, Nantucket, Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet to prohibit the use of such bags.
Following up on his Feb. 24 letter, Scholomiti attended the board of health meeting on March 16 to make his pitch in person. According to the minutes of the meeting, he shared copies of regulations from Chatham and Harwich and detailed how these allowed phase-in periods to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags to stores. Some board members expressed concern over the cost to businesses but voted unanimously to develop a regulation for further review.
In an interview last week, health agent Robert Canning said he expects the board will address the issue in the coming weeks. Scholomiti understands the process and remains optimistic. “I'm hopeful Bob Canning will bring this closer to the top of the list now that summer's over,” he said.
Before the bag ban effort began, the owner of Friends' Marketplace had already taken action.
“We just thought it was the right thing for the community,” said Brian Junkins, who switched last year to paper bags and a policy of encouraging customers to bring their own. “It was a bit of a challenging step to take. Our paper bags at the time cost us 13 cents apiece, and plastic bags were 1 cent apiece.”
Junkins said everybody “wants to move ahead in banning plastic” and that he “wanted to be ahead of the curve...As a business owner, you have to be creative in how to support” such action.
Friends' printed “a lot” of its own multi-use bags, said Junkins, but they still needed to do more to encourage people not to ask for the paper replacements for plastic bags.
“In the summer, we go through 10,000 bags a week easily,” he said. “The thing that killed us this year was that the cost of paper bags went from 13 cents to 17 cents.” As he pondered alternatives, Junkins recalled the time he lived in Germany, where stores charged the equivalent of 50 cents a bag. After paying the fee once, “I never went out without my own bag again,” he said.
Reluctant to charge its customers, Friends' came up with a different approach to encourage people to bring their own bags.
“This year, we started Bagging for Good,” Junkins said. “We incent customers to bring their own bag. Every time they do, we give them a token worth five cents to give to local charities.” Those tokens (you get one for each multi-use bag packed and drop it in one of three containers) added up to 14,000 – or $700 – in the first two months alone. Beneficiaries have included the Nauset Endowment Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the Homeless Prevention Council of Lower Cape Cod, Cape Abilities, and hurricane relief.
The cost of banning plastic bags “is a really hard pill to swallow, especially for smaller local businesses,” Junkins said. Even so, “I endorse making changes for the good. This is a change for the good. We need to be creative as small businesses to make this work. Overall, I would not go back to plastic. I think we're doing the right thing.”
Scholomiti said he'd welcome “anybody who wants to join the battle, the quest” for a single-use plastic bag ban to check in with the board of health. In his letter to the board, he noted concerns about costs, then asked, “But how expensive is our health care system which must remedy the effect of doing nothing?”