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Confessions of a former plastic bag fan

I am a bag lady.

I am a budding recycling vigilante.

Pam Burke

I am a jumper-on-er of the "re-use and save" bandwagon.

I now shun plastic bags at the store in favor of my newly purchased re-usable bags.

It's a non-slackerish and good thing to do. It's totally out of character.

Sometimes I don't feel like myself.

The people who know me are a little shocked that I have fully embraced an action that requires me to abstain from using a free convenience that makes my life easier because, hey: Free. Easy. Two of my favorite words.

Sure, I would tell store clerks to skip the plastic bag if I could easily carry my items without it, or tell them to load up my plastic bags with more than just a couple items, even though I was risking a blowout and having to retrieve my stuff from the dirt, mud or snow.

That's the price of compromising between guilt and greed — along with having to stand around tying knots in my excess plastic bags that had to be thrown away without re-using them as garbage bags. Such a hardship.

But still, that compromise made me feel eco-friendly ... ish.

Then the local dump moved a mile upwind from my house. And changed everything.

I did not want the dump to be a mile from my house, in any direction. When the Havre Daily News printed a big front page article about the dump relocating to there, I was the creative genius behind the headline "Not in my backyard."

That's how I felt then — and exactly how I feel now.

Yes, I know that a municipal landfill has to be located somewhere — I would gladly have it located somewhere else. So, yes, that means I would put it in your backyard, just as quickly as shoving you under a bus.

For the next several decades though, I live down the prevailing wind path of the place where three counties worth of refuse is accumulated — except for the rogue bits of it that blow my way.

I've been picking up a lot of blown-in garbage in the past six months. It's gotten me thinking. Which is not, generally, a good thing.

And then last week, I took my first horseback ride of the spring up the coulee behind my house, and what I saw spurred me to action.

I won't bore you with poetic details of how much that rugged pasture means to me and my husband. I'll let it stand on this: Some day our ashes will be fertilizing the vegetation there.

In the meantime, what I found scattered in the one-and-a-half mile stretch of pasture were these: hundreds upon hundreds of plastic bags, along with an assortment of other plastic and foam sheets littering the coulee and washes.

The plastic garbage — with virtually the same half-life as nuclear waste (twice that of Twinkies) — blanketed patches of ground, clung to the brush and fluttered wildly in tree branches.

I won't scare you with the dark and profanity-laden details of how that scene made me feel. I'll let it stand on this: It took me three days to calm down enough to call the county sanitarian to say, "Uh, yeah, I think I have a whole lot of something that belongs to your dump piling up in my coulee."

He sent a cadre of people out to retrieve the garbage (as well as collect ticks and roust out the rattlesnakes), and they will return on a regular basis. It's their job to gather stray landfill plastics (the ticks are just a perk).

The day after my trash-filled discovery, I thought to do some math:

If a one-and-a-half mile stretch of coulee gathers an estimated 1,000 bags and assorted plastics in six months, that's 2,000 plastics in a full year and 10,000 in five years, If the landfill lasts 100 years, that means 200,000 bags and plastic bits would collect in the coulee — if the landfill employees (paid with our tax dollars) didn't come out to clean up the "free" and "easy" bags.

And this is just one small area surrounding the landfill.

At this point my brain exploded, and I bought four re-usable bags with my groceries and plan to buy more if needed.

(Hi, my name is Pam, and I'm addicted to the convenience of plastic grocery bags. It's been 11 days since I started using re-usable bags at


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