Davis IGA and the Kent Energy and Environmental Task Force are teaming on a plastic bag-free initiative in Kent. The campaign will run Jan. 18-19 and Jan. 25-26.

Free tote bags will be given to all shoppers at Davis IGA on those days from 1 to 5 p.m.

The effort will be joined by a troop of South Kent School students, who will be on hand to bag groceries and carry them to customers' cars. In addition, Kent True Value will provide complimentary tote bags to shoppers.

"The concept was generated in a discussion with a science class at South Kent School last spring," said Gary Davis, president of Davis IGA. "The boys were asked to brainstorm ideas for reducing the use of plastic in our community, and this is the idea that had the most traction."

The tote bags are 100 percent certified biodegradable, petroleum free and are machine washable.

The campaign will be repeated during the week around Earth Day.

"Plastic bags create a huge challenge to our environment, and ultimately our economy," said Karren Garrity, task force chairwoman.

"Plastic bag cleanup efforts are a rising cost for our state and federal agencies each year," she said. "Despite their lightweight and compact characteristics, plastic bags disproportionately impact the solid waste and recycling stream and persist in the environment even after they have broken down."

Garrity pointed out people think plastic bags are free. Instead, he said, they actually cost taxpayers millions every year.

In addition to the economic benefits of a plastic bag reduction, there would be countless environmental benefits.

These include reduced use of natural resources for bag production, reduced wildlife fatalities from strangulation and suffocation and improved water quality.

For all intents and purposes, plastic never biodegrades; instead, it slowly photo degrades. As it photo degrades, plastic film breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, which attract surrounding toxins. When mistaken as a food source, these plastic particles form a progressively greater health risk of food chain contamination.

Plastic marine pollution is a global problem with local solutions, according to the press release from Davis IGA and the task force.

Stopping the distribution of bags is widely considered an appropriate and practical action to protect our environment and save financial resources. It is a practical approach to addressing a profound problem.

Many countries and a handful of American cities have more or less done away with this supposed convenience item, by discouraging its use through plastic-bag taxes at checkout counters or outright bans.

"It didn't take people very long to accommodate at all," said Dick Lilly, manager for waste prevention in Seattle, where a plastic-bag ban took effect last summer. "Basically overnight those grocery and drugstore bags were gone."

"Plastic shopping bags are an enormous problem for New York City," said Ron Gonen, the city's deputy commissioner of sanitation for recycling and waste reduction.

He noted the city pays $10 million annually to send 100,000 tons of plastic bags that are tossed in the general trash to landfills in South Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

That, he points out, "is amazing to think of, because a plastic bag doesn't weigh much at all. We have to get people to start carrying reusable bags."

For more information, visit www.kentedrive.org.