Before you get concerned that this is a political post, let me assure you this has NOTHING to do with anything outside of McMinnville and Yamhill County….although we are pretty representative of other places in this nation, ahead of some, trailing behind others.
I’m talking about trash. Versus trash talking. That’s a different blog (only kidding).
We who are involved with the concept of reducing the amount of garbage that goes into our landfill understand that this is not an instant process but must take time to implement a number of small changes. One recent change, McMinnville’s decision to stop single-use plastic bags being used at the check-outs, is a good example.
First came the understanding that light plastics that end up in our landfill are a big problem. Not only will they fill the landfill, requiring ever more and more space, but they will not decay. And, as anyone who actually takes a moment to stop and look at the landfill will notice, the land around it has a lot of plastic litter blowing in the wind. This ends up in the Yamhill River and does make it out to the Pacific Ocean over time, affecting sea life.
After learning what other communities did to impose a similar change in plastic bag usage policy, we spoke at great length to managers of the stores in town for their understanding and buy-in before the case was made to the City Council.
The town government then held several opportunities for residents to share their viewpoints. There was an article in the News Register and on local news stations. Zero Waste McMinnville produced and disseminated information papers at all the major stores at least a month before implementation. We even had tables in front of the supermarkets in order to hand out free reusable totes and to answer questions.
And yet, even now there is a segment of the population of this city who have not really become informed and are convinced that the charge for paper sacks is a new city imposed tax and one where they had no voice.
This is the resistance I am addressing today. Why do people choose to be stubborn?
In reading about resistance to changes made in a business environment certain factors are suggested in setting up the new situation to be as positive as possible.
- What are the specific changes needed? So, here we are urging people to reuse sacks or totes or bags for their shopping. There are lots of opportunities in this town during events to pick up FREE reusable bags let along low priced options at thrift shops and yard sales. Access to new containers is fairly easy.
- Who will the changes affect? Primarily, this most affects the consumers but it also affects the stores. Consumers needed to change a habit if they already had not noticed, or cared, that our use of plastic has had a negative effect on the environment. The stores had to be the ones who dealt with uneducated consumers, people who just had not heard over the weeks that this plan was being implemented.
- How will the changes impact them? Consumers need to learn to carry bags into stores or pay a new bag fee at the check-out. Stores need to stay in compliance with the new regulation and can impose a fee to cover the costs of the paper bags they used to provide for free.
So, realistically, the new ordinance is not requiring a huge change. Just carry in bags you have used before. You can even carry in the bags you purchased the last time you were in the store since you failed to carry in bags then.
And yet, we have some people in this town who are threatening to drive out of McMinnville to shop to avoid the bag charge. Really? You complain about the 5 or 10 cent bag charge as too expensive but are willing to use how much gas to drive to another town to another store to shop? Really? That does not make financial sense at all!
So, why are people so resistant to change, even when it really is not a big deal?
- Fear of the unknown/surprise. If the people who are reacting in this way are the same people who never heard anything, on local radio or tv, in the local newspaper, or at the checkouts of the supermarket they used for a month before implementation, then they were surprised. But does opting to stay uninformed, personally choosing to never read the paperwork at the grocery store, mean this was done without notice? No, plenty of notice was out there….and in a place you normally go. Not understanding what this new ordinance means is a reason to get curious and ask questions.
- Mistrust. People angry about the bag ordinance were almost fully consistantly complaining that the city government had imposed a new tax on them without any chance to speak up. While this is not a tax and there were plenty of chances to state personal opinions, these residents failed to understand that, and so, are concerned about what else the government might have planned.
- Loss of control. If I am used to doing something a certain way and someone says I can’t do it any longer, I also would feel shaken. My first choice would be to find out the WHY behind the new rule. In this situation, concern for the environment is paramount. There are some people who just are not concerned, however. So, they want what they want because they are used to a certain way. Yes, they lost some control…they can not be completely responsibility free any longer when packing their purchases. They either bring a bag or they pay for a bag. That’s what they have control over.
- Bad timing. Someone suggested that implantation take place after the holiday shopping season. Why? The option to delay is just a desire not to implement at all.
- An individual’s predisposition toward change. Some people seriously want to do everything the way they learned as children without realizing there are new and wondrous things today that our parents and grandparents never had the chance to enjoy. It might be an interesting sociological study to see if people resistant to this bag ordinance might also be people who hate trying new foods.
The bottom line is that we continue to have a horrible problem with single use plastics befouling our environment ….and that of our children and grandchildren out to 1000 years!!
The bottom line is that we tend to exaggerate the amount of effort needed to learn a new habit. That we are talking about small tricks that take 5 seconds (oh yes, no exaggeration there) to remind you to carry out bags from your home to your car to take into a store.
The bottom line is that we here in McMinnville recognize that we are borrowing this land from our children and grandchildren and we need to turn some problems that have happened in our lifetime around. The use of thin plastic bags at the grocery store is only a few decades old. We can help turn this around. And be proud we did.
We need not be that stubborn. Really.