For many years now, I have been hearing comments from many Havre and Hill County residents concerning the visual problems associated with blowing plastic sacks throughout the county. Plastic sacks that are used to carry various items from local stores have a brief life of service, and then they are disposed of.
I have seen many people purchase large volumes of groceries, collect 8 to 10 plastic sacks to carry the items to the car or their home. Then the bags are discarded. As we can all see, some sacks do not even make it that far, they are seen caught in trees or blowing across parking lots. Loose plastic sacks are all over the public roadways until they become caught in a fence or a bush where they remain for weeks or months.
Our new landfill site that opened in November 2011 is in a very tough situation. The employees there must try to contain the floating parachutes before they are caught up in the north central Montana winds and carried miles away. Even the 25-foot tall fences around the landfill cannot contain all of the plastic sacks. Depending on the wind gusts they can be lifted more than 100 feet in the air.
A large amount of time and public money is spent trying to collect these plastic sacks just so they can be secured and buried at the bottom of a landfill trench. This is a waste of time, money and resources. I do not believe this problem is unique to Havre or Hill County. Many places across the United States have started to limit or completely discontinue the use of carry-out plastic sacks. Several business have the customer place their items back in their cart after they purchase their things and take the loose items to their vehicles — there is not a choice of having a plastic sack! Most places encourage the use of canvas reusable bags that are made of recycled textile materials. Still other places charge extra if customers would still like to use the plastic sacks. Then this money is used to pay workers to help clean up parks and highways.
By changing to reusable canvas shopping bags, many Havre and Hill County residents have taken the personal challenge to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. Plastic sacks are a convenience that is destroying our environment. Not only are they littering our highways, empty lots and pastures, they are being ingested by our livestock, and trapped in our equipment and fences At some point, we as a community must decide to make the changes that should have been done years ago. Our society cannot afford to continue to waste money, energy and non-renewable resources.
Please talk to your City Council representative, mayor or county commissioner, and let them know your thoughts on this growing concern. Laws would need to be changed and the city and county attorney would need to be involved. If we all get together on this issue, I am confident that as a community we can come up with a solution to resolve this problem. We will never get rid of all our litter problems, but taking a positive step toward a solution is much better than doing nothing.
(Clay Vincent is the Hill County sanitarian.)