The evidence is piling up- Plastic making its way into our creeks, bays and the Ocean.    Fire Island and Beyond Contributor Diana Poulos-Lutz has some thoughts on how even one person can make a difference. 

By Diana Poulos- Lutz

Paper or plastic? Neither.

For the past few years, I’ve been using reusable bags to package my groceries at the supermarket.

Not only do I feel good about not using plastic, which has been filling our landfills and oceans, but the size and durability of reusable bags seem to make the groceries somewhat easier to carry and lift.

Yet, for some reason, I haven’t been as mindful about bringing my reusable bags to other retail stores.

 People that know me well, know that I don’t often make trips to a crowded shopping mall. Nevertheless, last week, I found myself headed to one of our large, crowded, Long Island malls for a return. 

I hadn’t been there in some time. This time, I decided to bring one reusable bag with me. Although I have some favorite reusable bags, the one I had on hand wasn’t too pretty.

This particular one was an older bag, perhaps now with a small hole somewhere, that I had bought when reusable bags had first started becoming available at various supermarkets on our island.

It didn’t matter. Still having a few grains of sand in my shoes from an earlier walk at the beach, I remembered why I was carrying this reusable bag.

So, I walked into the crowded mall for the very first time with a reusable bag. 

 The first thing I noticed, as I walked into the midst of the crowd, was a sea of plastic bags that almost every shopper was carrying.

They were big, shiny, and colorful bags from various stores from within the mall. I had never before thought to look at how much plastic consumers carry around on any given day at a shopping mall on Long Island.

 I walked into the store where I was making the return and told the cashier that I would not need a bag since I could put the exchanged item into the reusable bag I already had with me.

The cashier was very happy about this statement and said she hopes that more people start bringing reusable bags with them. What caught my attention about her reaction, most of all, was her seeming surprise, as if nobody else had ever used a reusable bag in that store while she was there. I then thought to myself, it’s possible.

After all, it was my first time bringing a reusable bag to this mall.

 From that moment on, I decided to carry the bag into any other store I would need to go that weekend.

Later in the day, I walked into another store, only to purchase my favorite mints. I waited on-line, and heard the cashier say to the customer in front of me that “we have an endless supply of plastic bags here.”

When it was my turn, I told him I won’t be needing the bag since I’m trying not to use plastic bags, when possible.

I had a similar experience that weekend when picking up food at a local pizzeria. “You don’t want any plastic bags? How will you carry the items?”

These recent experiences have made me become more mindful of my daily habits.

 According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags per year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture.

These bags are ending up in our landfills and oceans. According to the Center, 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from trash left on the shores.

Nevermind our landfills, our oceans are drowning in plastic, our fish are eating plastic, and, thus, humans are also harmed by the effects of the unfathomable amount of plastic piling up in our landfills and oceans.

So, while some retail stores feel they have an endless supply of plastic bags, the potential health of our earth, our resources, our oceans, and ourselves is certainly not endless.

 The more often that people bring reusable bags to our stores, the less retailers will need to provide endless supplies of plastic. 

As I’ve spent more time outdoors in the last few years, walking our beautiful beaches in every season as my “gym time,” photographing nature, and writing about our connection to nature, I have come to realize that protecting the environment is not the protection of something outside of ourselves.

To protect our environment is also to protect ourselves and the health of our own mind and body. Perhaps, all of us can take a collective moment to pledge greater effort in using reusable bags whenever it is possible.

 Using reusable bags in our daily lives can provide a moment of mindfulness throughout our hurried day, a reminder that our connection to our earth has a direct impact on what is inside us; it is a reminder to not only take care of our earth, but also to take care of ourselves, our well-being, and the health and quality of life of future generations.

If the vast majority of us within the Town of North Hempstead take a pledge to bring bags to the grocery store, to malls, to pharmacies, and to other retail stores, think of how much less plastic use we would have on our Island. 

Do we need a five-cent fee for plastic bag usage in stores to promote reusable bag use? Before that is decided, why not simply take a pledge, regardless, to keep some of those reusable bags in our cars and/or homes at all times for easy access.

Who is with me?