Homer’s plastic bag inquiry can learn from Modbury

By Christopher Bowden

I have been following the recent debate in Homer concerning the possible ban on plastic bags in our unique coastal community. Various positions have been represented, and each of those positions has some logical merit. I am not particularly interested in siding with a viewpoint on this issue. However, like many issues, the rhetoric sometimes makes it difficult to determine who is right and who is wrong. 
Like the plastic being debated, I like to think I can be “flexible” and adapt to whatever final decision is made on the matter.
Due to the strength of various viewpoints and the confusing rhetoric that goes along with each, I decided to sort through some of the confusion.  There seems to be a faction that is focused on the convenience of plastic bags or the inconvenience of not having plastic bags. There are those proponents of the impact that plastic and plastic bags have on the environment, global ecosystems and, of course, wildlife itself through consumption or entanglement. Each argument is not without merit.
My curiosity concerning the issue as a whole left me wondering what has happened in other global communities where plastic bag bans have been enacted.  What would Homer be like in the years following a plastic bag ban? Would the citizens find it to be an onerous, inconvenient government intervention or would they find other results? Could there be potential benefits for Homer?
Perhaps, the answer lies in Modbury, in the Devon, South Hampton region of England. Modbury is a bit smaller than Homer. But in the grand scale of towns, both Homer and Modbury are small,  rural towns. In early May of 2007, Modbury also wrestled with the issue of banning plastic bags. Undoubtedly there were proponents on each side of the issue. What were things like a year after the plastic bag ban in Modbury?  Hannah Poole of “The Guardian” reported on the after effects of the plastic bag ban a year later in April 2008.
Initially, Modbury was labeled as a radical, hippie town for taking an action considered by some to be “extreme. ” However, as the following year unfolded, things settled down and in general, the town came to consider itself as source of pride to be among Europe’s first town to go plastic free with retail shopping bags. A year following the plastic bag ban, Poole describes the feeling of local residents as being “100 percent successful.”  Both shopkeepers and shoppers seem to have adapted and are supportive of the action.  
Hmm?  That wasn’t what I personally expected to find when I first started looking at the issue from an outside perspective.
Now Modbury sports a sign seen by visitors as they first enter the town. “Britain’s  First Plastic Bag Free Town.” Local residents take pride in their town’s action as being able to make its own decisions and not follow the pack mentality of other communities. Perhaps one of the greater inconveniences later faced by Modbury residents was also unexpected. It seems the camera crews and satellite vans coming into the town became a bit annoying. However, it undoubtedly brought a lot of free advertising and press coverage to a typically cash strapped small town. Sound familiar?  Isn’t Homer a town that relies on visitors and tourism?
For the individuals still relying on plastic bags in Modbury, they are asked if they are sure they need one. Those still needing one are offered a corn starch-based alternative that is biodegradable. A small charge is assessed in the form of a tax. 
Hmm? It seems like Homer is always looking for additional revenues. As a Homer resident, it seems like I am paying plenty of taxes for just about everything already. I would be happy to share some of that burden with visitors in need of corn starch bags. It seems the town of Modbury has also been offering cotton based reusable grocery bags to visitors at a reasonable price.  Those reusable bags have also taken advantage of further advertising for the town on the side of each bag.  Those reusable bags are carried all over the country, continent and world.  It turns out the reusable grocery bags are another source of widespread advertising and recognition for the town. That is done at little cost as well and only provides benefit for the little plastic free community.
I guess I will remain open on how the plastic ban issue turns out in Homer.  However, I hope I can remain  ”flexible” enough to adapt to the days of pre-plastic bags of only a couple decades ago, just in case.  I guess if my parents, and grandparents could do it. I’ll probably be able to adapt to it, too.  It would probably be easier than seeing them adapt to the new technology of current times that the younger folks use. How difficult can adapting to reusable bags be? If Homer does ban plastic bags, I guess wildlife and ecosystems will also benefit, to say nothing of the visual benefits for those of us living in this special, beautiful place on the planet.
The Homer City Council recently approved the ban on plastic bags.  This was followed by Mayor Jim Hornaday’s veto on the Council’s action.  Next the Homer City Council will consider to reverse or uphold the Mayor’s veto on Sept. 24.

Christopher Bowden is a Homer resident and former biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who retired as a biology teacher.

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Posted by on Sep 19th, 2012 and filed under Point of View. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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