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Bag Lady

The statistics tell a bleak tale: Americans use 380 billion plastic bags every year. It takes 100 million barrels of oil to make those bags. Most don't biodegrade in landfills and barely one percent of them get recycled.

That's why a bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature would charge you a fee of up to 15 cents every time you want to use a plastic bag for shopping. It would be the first statewide law of its kind, and one woman from Sharon is behind the push. WBUR's Meghna Chakrabarti has her story.

TEXT OF STORY

JANET MARTIN: "I'm the one woman crusade against the plastic bag."

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Janet Martin is a tall, slender, 50-something Southern Belle, with blond highlights and a colorful pedicure.

She says it's not just that old plastic bags flap around in trees, or that they don't breakdown in landfills. Martin says she's on her mission because she believes plastic bags waste oil, an idea she chanced on in an article in House and Garden magazine.

MARTIN: "It said that did you know that the petroleum used in the manufacturing and production of 14 plastic bags could drive a car one mile?"

CHAKRABARTI: Martin started writing letters to her local grocery store. She also wrote to her state Senator, Brian A. Joyce. Joyce responded by filing legislation that he says, if passed, will charge Massachusetts shoppers 15-cents for every bag they carry out of stores.

BRIAN A. JOYCE: "This is just one of the 50 states, and it's just one product, but I think we can, in fact, stem the tide of harm that we've caused in the last couple of generations."

[SOUND OF WOMEN AT A PARTY]

CHAKRABARTI: Janet Martin is keeping up the pressure. Since the beginning of the year, she's been sponsoring what she's dubbed, "B-Y-O-B Parties"... that's Bring Your Own Bag. She goes to friends' homes, invites a group of women over for wine and cheese, and offers them a free reusable grocery tote in exchange for a promise to banish the plastic bag from their households.

MARTIN: "No one has ever stopped me from bringing a reusable bag to shop with. They go, they start reaching for a bag. I say no, I use my own bags! I've got my own. And furthermore, I have two arms and two legs and I can walk out of here with the receipt without using a bag and I'm proud of it."

CHAKRABARTI: It's not always an easy sell.

MARY RUDSER: "The chicken! The gooky chicken! What do I put the chicken in?"

CHAKRABARTI: Mary Rudser is a wife and mom. She's worked in grocery stores for 20 years. Her neighbor, Wendy Savino, has an even bigger worry. Plastic bags make the perfect pooper-scoopers for her dogs.

WENDY SAVINO: "That was the one I couldn't think of another way to accommodate, you know?"
RUDSER: "Scoop it with the scooper thing and carry it down the street and put it in — "
SAVINO: "In Mary's front yard."
RUDSER: "In my front yard."
SAVINO: "Well, that's the problem."
RUDSER: "I don't know. Do you put it in paper? I don't know!"

[DOG BARKS]

MARTIN: "For doggie poop, I've got the answer for that, too. You get plastic bags around loaves of bread carrots, potatoes, the list goes on. You can take those bags, you can cut them down, take them with you when you go walk your dog."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: "I have to head out."
MARTIN: "Thanks for coming."
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: "Thanks for having me."

CHAKRABARTI: At the end of the party, as the women leave, Martin gives each of them a reusable grocery bag, and a task.

MARTIN: "And listen, this is just a start for you. Go to Stop 'N Shop, and go to Shaw's, and bug them, and say, where are the reusable bags? I want to buy some more!"

CHAKRABARTI: As for the future of plastic bags across Massachusetts, Joyce's bill is in committee on Beacon Hill. Public hearings on the proposed 15-cent per bag fee will likely take place this fall.

For WBUR, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.

This program aired on July 17, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Meghna Chakrabarti Twitter Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.

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