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The disappearing plastic bag

On Jan. 1, Medford residents will bid a fond farewell to plastic grocery bags, even though they can be handy for trash can liners, doggie doo-doo and baby diapers.

“I’m going to miss them,” said Medford resident Evaloy Knight, who puts a paper bag inside a plastic bag for good measure while shopping at Sherm’s Thunderbird in west Medford.

Single-use plastic bags will be banned at grocery stores starting next year. A minimum 5-cent fee will be charged for reusable plastic or paper bags. The ban doesn’t affect the thinner plastic bags used for meat, fruits or vegetables.

Some grocery stores such as Sherm’s Thunderbird will phase out the plastic bags, offering 5-cent paper bags or more expensive reusable cloth bags. However, to save money, consumers will have to remember to bring the reusable bags when they pop into a store.

While she’ll miss the convenience of the plastic bags used for lining her trash cans, Knight said she supports the ban.

“I think it’s smart,” she said. “I see what they’re doing to the fish.”

Knight is referring to reports of millions of tons of plastic floating in the ocean, which is killing fish and wildlife, and getting into the food chain. She said she’s ready to say goodbye to plastic and plans to switch to cloth bags.

Bob Ames, general manager of Sherm’s Thunderbird, said he will continue to stock paper bags, which actually cost more than plastic bags, which are purchased for 2.2 cents. “The paper bags are four times that amount,” he said.

As a result, the store’s costs are more than the 5 cents the customer pays.

Ames said customers appreciate the convenience of the plastic bags, and he expects some customers will not be happy with the change.

“It’s too bad but good for the environment,” he said. “We do feel like there will be a little bit of grumbling.”

In Oregon, 12 cities already had plastic bag bans, including Portland and Ashland.

According to a Nov. 9 Associated Press article, there is a floating region of plastic known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch around Midway Atoll, in a remote northwest portion of the Hawaiian islands.

The Hawaiian Islands act like a comb that gathers debris as it floats across the Pacific. A recent analysis found that the patch is accumulating debris at a faster rate than scientists previously thought, and the plastic arrives from all around the Pacific Rim.

Midway is littered with bird skeletons that have brightly colored plastic protruding from their decomposing bellies. Bottle caps, toothbrushes and cigarette lighters sit in the centers of their feathery carcasses.

“There isn’t a bird that doesn’t have some (plastic),” said Athline Clark, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s superintendent for Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which Midway is part of. They “fill their bellies up with plastics instead of food and eventually either choke or just don’t have enough room for actual nourishment and perish.”

Sharp plastic pieces can also perforate their intestines and esophagus.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 5 tons of plastic are gathered by birds and fed to their young each year.

Endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles can die while entangled in plastic nets. Sharks and other apex predators eat smaller fish that feed on microplastics. Whales drag fishing line and buoys behind them during their long migrations across the world’s oceans.

The World Economic Forum reports 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year.

California was the first state to prohibit plastic bags, with New York state following suit earlier this year. Hawaii bans all types of single-use bags, both paper and plastic.

Many Medford residents have come to peace with the plastic ban bag, even if it will be inconvenient at times.

“We’re just killing the fish,” said Allie Ramirez, who was shopping with her 2-year-old son Jaxon at Thunderbird. “I think it’s a good initiative to keep things clean.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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