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LETTER: I Would Bring Old-Fashioned, Common-Sense Ideas To Select Board

Dear Editor,

   I consider the plastic “tee-shirt” grocery bag—the ones that Westford recently banned—to be a significant, if small, advance in civilization.

   If you have ever carried several bags full of groceries out to your car instead of using the shopping cart (why make extra work for store employees if you don’t have to), you are aware how the plastic bag makes it easy to carry several bags in one hand.  And if you have ever had the “pleasure” of carrying groceries in a paper bag out to your car in the middle of a rainstorm (or loaded with cold, sweating ice cream or frozen foods on a humid day, you begin to understand why I prefer the plastic shopping bags.

    Now, I also ask for paper bags now and then, which I fill with back issues of the Groton Herald, old magazines and junk mail and drop off in the paper recycling bin at the Transfer Station.  It’s all recyclable, bag and all, with no sorting.

    But those are personal convenience issues, and we can have differing opinions on those.  As it turns out, paper bags have a bigger (and more harmful) environmental impact than plastic bags.  Our local paper mill, Hollingsworth and Vose—just down the road from my house—is only part of a “real” paper mill, as they do not create the wood pulp here in Groton, but truck it in from elsewhere.  Even so, H&V is a serious operation, using enough energy that they have their own power plant.

    Converting trees to paper is a process that requires a great deal of energy and chemicals.  In fact, producing a plastic shopping bag is far more environmentally friendly than producing a paper bag.  Granted, that most plastic bags are made from petroleum or natural gas; perhaps in the future the scientists and engineers will come up with a way to make them out of corn or cellulose-based ethanol, which is currently being used to make our cars get poorer gas mileage (isn’t environmental progress wonderful?  Remind me to invest in Archer-Daniels Midland, one of the big ethanol producers).  And there are biodegradable plastics currently available which might be used.

    Here in Groton we have two main choices on plastic bag recycling.  Most grocery stores have a bin for used plastic bags.  Or you can simply toss the used bag into your trash, and it will be taken to the incinerator in Haverhill and burned to produce energy.  And I hope you’ll save a few of those used plastic bags for use as garbage bags or liners for (small) wastebaskets.  Burying plastic trash in a landfill seems wasteful, but we don’t do that in Groton, and even those places that do so in a responsible manner are not part of the perceived world-wide plastic pollution problem.  I read recently that most of the plastic trash floating in the Pacific Ocean comes down a half-dozen or so rivers…in Asia, not in the USA.  While it’s a shame what ignorant people are doing, I don’t see where punishing ourselves for their lack of foresight makes any sense, and I’ll have none of it.

    So, feeling guilty because other people elsewhere in the world have not learned to live responsibly with modern conveniences like plastic bags, cups and bottles seems foolish and counterproductive to me.  I’m not suggesting that environmentally conscious people all move to developing nations in Asia, Africa or South America to try to “convert the heathens.”  Such might be noble thoughts, but probably setting up recycling factories and waste-to-energy incinerators might be a better idea.  Do well by doing good, as they say.

    So, here in good, old (founded in 1655, remember?) Groton, I am running for Select Board.  I could be snide and make rude comments about there being “no fool like an old fool,” but I am running, and if elected, I have no intention of voting for any bans on plastic bags, cups, straws, etc. in Groton.  Feel free to extrapolate from that attitude to others such as fiscal responsibility.

   I should also mention that I would come to the Select Board with some old-fashioned, common-sense ideas, and while I am more than happy to listen to any comments/ideas/gripes from my fellow citizens, I am not going to vote against my own firmly held beliefs and principles.

Sincerely yours,

Brooks Lyman

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