Derek Gentile: Be the future, graduate to canvas bags


A s I was sitting in the selectmen's meeting room in Great Barrington the other day, I was thinking of the movie, "The Graduate."

It's that scene early in the movie when Dustin Hoffman, as Benjamin Braddock, is at his graduation party. And Mr. McGuire, played by Walter Brooke, comes up to him and says, "I want to say just one word to you. Just one word."

And Benjamin says, "Yes sir."

And Mr. McGuire leans in and says, "plastics."

"Exactly how do you mean that?" asks Benjamin.

In the 1960s, plastics were the wave of the future. Durable, flexible, it could be molded into just about anything -- and was. In 1967, getting into the plastics industry probably seemed like a great idea.


But we now know that it's just a little too durable and flexible. In 2012, a documentary revealed that an estimated 1 million sea birds annually choke or are tangled up in discarded plastic nets. About 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins and other marine animals are also killed annually by plastic ingestion or capture.

I confess, not all those facts circulated through my mind the other day. But I was happy to see that Great Barrington opted to lead the way in Western Massachusetts by prohibiting the use of plastic grocery bags beginning March 1.

No. This decision by the town is not going to save too many dolphins, whales or sea lions. But it's a good step forward.

I have gotten emails from people who believe this is not much of a solution. The town, they write, will still be using large plastic garbage bags, laundry bags and other types of plastic. Including those plastic bags that we wrap The Eagle in. So why bother?

I concede that was my initial reaction, as well. It's a pain to use paper bags. And I had no intention of buying those stupid-looking canvas bags -- and toting them around -- to do my grocery shopping.

But the alternative to doing something, even on a small scale, is doing nothing. I'm always reminded by something Teddy Roosevelt said many years ago. It's something I believe in very strongly: "In any situation, the best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing."

This bylaw feels like a good thing to do. I got an email by someone saying, "Great, let's kill more trees [to make paper bags]."

It's a good point, but the real intent of this bylaw is to try to influence people into using reusable canvas bags, not so much to convert to paper.

"If everyone uses paper bags, we win a little," said Selectman chairman Sean Stanton. "If everyone starts using canvas bags, we win a lot."

So I say, let's try it. If it's a huge failure, which I doubt, well, bylaws can always be repealed. But I agree with Art Ames, the general manager of the Berkshire Co-Op Market. This seems like big news now. In a few years, it won't be news at all.

In another matter, I'm doing a story about the residents of Berkshire County who worked in the mills in days gone by. So if there is anyone out there who spent years in a mill, any mill, in the county, let me know and I'll set up an interview. My email address is below, and feel free to drop me a line. Thanks.

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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