You probably don’t need anything else to be worried about these days, but you should be very worried about plastic.

An observation by the authors of the Plastic Invasion says it best.

“Plastic frees us, improving daily life in almost uncountable ways. And plastic imprisons us in waste and microscopic pollution.”

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Globally, humans use one million single-use plastic bags every minute. By one estimate, the average American family uses 1,500 plastic bags every year. We use these bags, which we thoughtlessly take to carry home our purchases from grocery stores, liquor stores and drug stores, for an average of 12 minutes before we discard them, yet they can persist in nature for over 500 years.

Of the over 9 billion tons of consumer plastic produced since 1950, only 9% has been recycled. About 80% has accumulated in landfills or has drifted into the ecosystem, which means our oceans, rivers, streams, and soil. We have all seen plastic bags caught in trees, clogging our streams, dirtying our streets.

In the ocean it chokes sea creatures like turtles and whales and wears down into microparticles that make their way into the food chain. Through freshwater, it makes its way into our drinking water (including water bottled in plastic). Chemicals from plastics like Bisphenol A (BPA), which are used to line food cans and other containers, in flame retardants and adhesives, are found in the bodies of almost all Americans. BPA has been linked to hormonal changes, reproductive problems, asthma and obesity. There are also concerns about phthalates, which are used in cosmetics among other consumer products, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), which are flame retardants used in a fast array of products. The lightweight single-use bags given by supermarkets are made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) and thicker bags of low density polyethylene (LDPE).

If we do not change our consumption habits, scientists predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish.

In South Orange and Maplewood, we can just say no.

In fact, many of our local storeowners have already said no, and offer only paper. The managers of our three grocery stores, Ashley Marketplace, Kings and Stop & Shop, listen to their customers. They give us what we ask for, which means they give out thousands of plastic bags. But they would like to stop too. For our BYO Bag Campaign this past May, the SO Not Plastic Coalition (South Orange Environment Commission, Maplewood Green Team and SOMA Action) conducted an audit of bag use over the weekend before, during and after, and observed that over half of all customers left grocery stores with them, even if only a few items were purchased, and almost everyone left a liquor store with them. Most likely, unless we stopped them for a survey, the use was an automatic, almost unconscious act.

We would like to change that. Starting with bags. As citizens of planet earth, we all need to become more mindful about the ways we generate unnecessary waste and reduce whenever and however possible.

Can’t ever remember to use those reusable shopping bags? Put them back in the trunk of your car so they are there when you need them. Better yet, download the ReBagIt app for your smartphone, and get a reminder to do so and another reminder to grab your bags once you are in the parking lot of your favorite store.

But don’t stop with groceries, take reusable bags for all shopping expeditions like clothing and hardware (the app can be programmed for up to 20 stores and keep your shopping list). You can also get washable reusable product bags and carry an ultra-compact bag in your briefcase or pocketbook for those unplanned smaller purchases.

We promise if you do so, the store owners will thank you, your grandchildren with thank you, and we will thank you. And go ahead, feel a bit smug about doing your part. And once you are good at saying no to plastic bags, please start saying no to plastic water bottles, takeaway cups and straws. It’s the right thing to do.

Jennifer Nielsen and Ed Reichman, co-chairs, SOMA Action Climate Subcommittee

If you want to learn how you can support our campaign, contact