Change, we must 

By Ken Midkiff

COLUMBIA, Mo 03/03/15 (Op Ed)
--  Change is hard.  People get accustomed to doing something a certain way. They often resist even beneficial change.

Columbia is a dynamic town, always changing.  But two matters presently before our citizens stand out more than usual under the "change" banner.  Coincidentally, both involve eliminating plastic bags.

Our first change would swap large plastic trash bags for roll carts on wheels.  The debate includes questions like, Is this plan sustainable? Good for the environment? Green?

To empty the roll carts, City Hall wants to purchase natural gas-powered trucks, arguing natural gas is "green".   But there is no proof natural gas produces less greenhouse gases than gasoline or diesel.  In fact, there is much evidence natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" emits more greenhouse gases than typical fossil fuels.

That said, roll carts have several benefits, including increased safety for trash haulers.    Our vacation site uses roll carts, and I find it easy to transfer garbage from kitchen bins to the cart, and roll it out to the curb.

One disadvantage many folks cite is that roll carts are difficult to maneuver up and down steep driveways and walkways. But Jefferson City -- much more hilly than Columbia -- has been hauling garbage with roll carts for years.  Columbia officials have proposed solutions to the "steep slope" problem, but so far, citizens opposed to the change cling to their opposition.

Perhaps positive experiences like mine -- and a successful role model like Jefferson City -- could help change their minds.

The proposed prohibition on single-use plastic bags -- on hold pending further review, but still very much alive -- is Columbia's second controversial change drawing resistance.   Despite all sorts of benefits -- less dependence on fossil fuel; less litter; more wildlife protection; less landfill filling; etc. -- the primary objection argues inconvenience.

It is more convenient, the opposition says, for supermarkets to put groceries into plastic bags -- so convenient it's been done for about 43 years.

Never mind all the disadvantages of single-use plastic bags:  their cost, the litter factor, their harm to waterways and wildlife.  Opponents -- including single-use plastic bag manufacturers -- say they are more environmentally friendly than paper bags.  That is true, but the purpose of the ban is not to choose between "paper or plastic," but to encourage consumers toward multi-use bags.

Still, as a grandmotherly type made clear at the public gathering on February 3, plastic bags are easy to use.  She objected vociferously to multi-use bags, and though her objections were answered, she remained un-swayed.

She was not interested in this change.

While Columbia debates roll carts v. plastic garbage bags and multi-use sacks vs. plastic
grocery bags, the city is overwhelmed with student apartment buildings, suburban developments, and single-family homes rising everywhere.  Citizens grumble about the impacts -- increased taxes; more demand for electricity, water, and waste treatment; developers failing to pay their fair share of costs; increased traffic; and so forth.

And yet, many are reluctant to change certain practices that would reduce these impacts.

As Columbia grows, our plastic bag culture grows with it, generating garbage that persists in the environment at an even greater rate than we're building bedrooms for students.   I have to think there would even be opposition if we currently used roll carts and the City proposed switching to trash bags

Change is hard -- I understand.   But I also understand that change, we must.