In March 2011, Sustainable Princeton launched a campaign to substantially reduce usage of single-use shopping bags and other single-use plastic items in Princeton.
Plastic items like bags, cutlery, bottles and cups all take energy to produce and transport. Then we use them just once. After use, most of us throw them away rather than recycling them.
Many of these discarded items don't make it to landfills. Instead, they litter our roadsides, woods and beaches. They clog storm drains and contribute to flooding. Some of the land-based trash washes into our seas and oceans where it mixes with plastics thrown overboard from boats. Several oceans contain massive areas of floating plastic, where plastic is more common than plankton.
Plastic items take a long time to break down, and some items are more degradable than others.
Some of the items can trap, tangle or be eaten by wildlife, as can some of their breakdown products, some of which may be toxic. All kinds of wildlife are affected, including birds, fish, reptiles and mammals. Toxic breakdown products such as pthalates can enter the food chain.
What you can do
Very often, you can use reusable bags, bottles, cups or cutlery instead of the single-use disposable plastic versions. It's extremely easy to:
- Remember to bring your own bags when you go shopping.
- Invest in a reusable bottle.
- Bring along your own cup and utensils.
- Recycle whatever plastic you do end up using.
Many Princeton businesses have agreed to support the BYOBag campaign, which is great!
What sustainable Princeton's been doing
So far, the campaign has drawn public attention to the issue of unnecessary plastic bag use via events such as:
- A "flash mob" song-and-dance event on April 29, 2011 in Hinds Plaza.
- An open-air Yoga event on May 14, 2011 in Palmer Square.
- A party in Hinds Plaza on June 9, 2011. Trees were decorated with plastic bags to illustrate just how many throw-away bags the average American uses in a year (500, of which only about 3% are ever recycled). The Stone Soup Circus gave a performance using discarded plastic bags as costumes. Attendees were encouraged to sign a pledge to bring reusable bags for shopping. The launch was given prominent coverage in local news publications, including a Town Topics article publicizing the event, an editorial supporting the BYOBag campaign in the Princeton Packet and a letter of thanks in Town Topics from the event organizers.
- A screening of the film "Bag It" on the evening of June 9, after the party. This award-winning movie examines the environmental and health consequences of our society's prolific use of plastic, especially in products that are only used once (such as bags and bottles).
If you have ideas for other BYOBag campaign events, please contact us.
The campaign is also encouraging local businesses to sign a "BYOBag Pledge".
Thanks to Princeton municipal governments for passing a joint resolution supporting the BYOBag campaign.
This Town Topics article summarizes how the campaign arose in early 2011.