Dan Rodricks

Don’t wait for the plastic bag ban. Start living a less plastic life now. | COMMENTARY

Discarded plastic shopping bags and water bottles show up frequently in Baltimore and its suburbs, along roads, ditches and rivers.

Too many of us still use too much plastic and throw away too much of it. Too much of it ends up in a landfill or an incinerator or in a tree or the stomach of a marine mammal. Reducing your polymer usage is the right thing to do ― if not to save the whales, perhaps to save your children and generations unborn.

There now, I’ve started a column with a flourish of hyperbole and an annoying guilt trip. Environmentalists say you shouldn’t do that, but I disagree. The clock is ticking. The planet is in distress. Change is needed, and guilt begets change. Guilt keeps us from cheating or stealing; it can also keep us from behaving as if there’s no tomorrow.


If you’re not in the mood for a public-service lecture, fine. When another sea turtle mistakes a plastic bag for a jellyfish and chokes to death, it will be on your conscience, not mine.

For those more receptive, I have suggestions.


Starting next year Baltimore retailers will be prohibited from issuing plastic bags for groceries or other purchases, so now is a good time to practice living a less plastic life. Shopping bags are the easiest to eliminate.

I recently stood in line at a supermarket while the gent before me purchased what seemed like a half-acre of macaroni-and-cheese mix. He had 30 or more boxes of the stuff laid out on the conveyor. He purchased a few other items in bulk as well. The fellow appeared to be stocking up for war with Iran, or perhaps making a contribution to a food pantry.

Whatever he was up to, he should have been prepared to carry his supplies in something other than white plastic bags. He left the store with enough mac-and-cheese to feed the Ravens’ O-line and enough plastic to choke a sperm whale.

There’s no reason for it. Using reusable bags for your shopping should be standard practice. They should be kept at hand in every household.

Of course, you have to remember to take them with you. But there are so many sturdy, inexpensive bags available, and some that are given away, you ought to be able to keep two or three in your car as backup.

If you don’t own a car, reusable bags, particularly the cloth ones, are much stronger and easier on the hands when you’re lugging groceries on the bus.

I realize I might be preaching to the choir today. But my observations reveal that a significant number of supermarket shoppers still count on plastic bags for their groceries.

With the ban coming to Baltimore, the person who is elected mayor this year should demand free time from every TV and radio station to get the word out. In the same vein, the entire region needs an anti-litter campaign. It’s way overdue. There have been no regular, well-produced anti-trash messages for ages. It’s time for local broadcasters to step up and help out.


The amount of plastic in our trash is still depressingly, breathtakingly huge. You’ve probably seen the Inner Harbor after a rainstorm or noticed plastic bags and bottles in rivers that flow into the Chesapeake.

The real answer to plastic pollution is not to create waste in the first place. So try changing your habits.

Stop buying so much bottled water. A bottle here or there is OK, but you don’t need to be purchasing it by the case. Get a reusable water bottle and fill it. Get two or three and keep one in the refrigerator, leave one in your car.

Reduce your consumption of bottled soda. Make iced tea. Make iced coffee. Once a week, squeeze some lemons or other citrus, press some berries or other soft fruit, and make a large pitcher of a refreshing drink. You could do the same with carrots and an electric juicer. It’s not hard.

When you finish a loaf of bread, save the outer plastic sleeve it comes in and reuse it. Same with the plastic zipper bags that deli meats and cheese come in; they make a good second use as sandwich bags.

If you like roast chicken once a week, but hate that it comes in a plastic container from the your supermarket, here’s a suggestion: Don’t buy it. Roast your own chicken at home. It’s not hard.


Regarding the flimsy plastic bags that come off rolls in the produce section of supermarkets: For years, we’ve been mindlessly grabbing them and filling them with greens and beans, apples and pears, then tying the bag with a knot. We take them home, rip the bags, pour out the contents, and that’s that.

Suggestion: Instead of tying a knot in the bag, use the twister tie that comes with it. When you get home, untie the twister, pour out the contents, then save the bag and the tie. Put them in one of your reusable grocery bags for the next trip to the store. (You can also buy reusable veggie bags.)

Cafes, sandwich shops and pizza joints that offer bottled beverages need to be challenged by customers on their lack of recycling. If they don’t offer it, take your bottles with you and recycle them at home. Don’t throw them away.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Thank you for reading this column and considering my eco-nerdy suggestions. I was reluctant to lay a public-service lecture on you, but I’m glad I did. I’d feel guilty otherwise.