Thursday, August 23, 2007

Forget Plastic

Nate and I purchased six reusable grocery bags from Shaw's months ago, and love them. We use them not just for groceries, but all errands. We've sprung a few leaks, but nothing a few stitches couldn't fix. I'm a big advocate for not using plastic bags. If you need some prodding on that front, please read this run-down of the effect of plastic bags on the environment, from America to Japan to Antarctica:

  • Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable. They actually go through a process called photodegradation—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic particles that contaminating both soil and water, and end up entering the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States every year. Of those, approximately 100 billion are plastic shopping bags, which cost retailers about $4 billion annually.
  • According to various estimates, Taiwan consumes 20 billion plastic bags annually (900 per person), and Japan consumes 300 billion bags each year (300 per person), and Australia consumes 6.9 billion plastic bags annually (326 per person).
  • Hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine mammals die every year after eating discarded plastic bags they mistake for food.
  • Discarded plastic bags have become so common in Africa they have spawned a cottage industry. People there collect the bags and use them to weave hats, bags and other goods. According to the BBC, one such group routinely collects 30,000 bags every month.
  • Plastic bags as litter have even become commonplace in Antarctica and other remote areas. According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone from being rare in the late 1980s and early 1990s to being almost everywhere in Antarctica.

Some governments have recognized the severity of the problem and are taking action to help combat it.

Strategic Taxes Can Cut Plastic Bag Use
In 2001, for example, Ireland was using 1.2 billion plastic bags annually, about 316 per person. In 2002, the Irish government imposed a plastic bag consumption tax (called a PlasTax), which has reduced consumption by 90 percent. The tax of $.15 per bag is paid by consumers when they check out at the store. Besides cutting back on litter, Ireland’s tax has saved approximately 18 million liters of oil. Several other governments around the world are now considering a similar tax on plastic bags.

I'm very interested in the tax idea. But additionally, it would be nice if there was a standard for plastic bag production. Think of this: companies who produce plastic bags make them thinner to "save waste" on production. The concept implies that a thinner bag means less plastic being used. However, as the bags become thinner, they are more prone to springing leaks from pressure from the contents (i.e. a cereal box punching a hole in the bag). To prevent the bag from breaking from sharp corners or excessive weight (i.e. multiple bottles of juice), stores double the bags up, so twice as much plastic is used. If we really wanted to cut consumption, we'd stop producing uselessly thin plastic bags in addition to moving towards re-usable bags.

2 responses:

ccroceiii said...

Calla you thoughtless woman;

Some poor third world underpayed child will lose work if you do not purchase his bags (which will be produced wheter you buy them or not). I am sure these kids can find other suitable work: making clothes for Martha Stewart or sneakers for the current NBA star of the day...but you are threatening the global economy with your parsimony! I encourage all my fans visiting your site to not only take the fee offered plastic bags at the supermarket, but to bulk them up with a nice new paper bag as the timber industry needs our dollars too.

Actually, recycling is a bust. Recycled materials make poor substitutes for the original product and cost much more in resources to actually collect, clean and make worthy for use. But they make people feel good, I suppose that is something. If you feel good to recycle (forgeting what it is costing your city to run that extra special truck around to collect those bins) then go for it babe! At least it is giving someone a job and, in a way, helping a small and corrupt segment of our economy to flourish.

Calla said...

Your first point: third world children do not often do hard labor manufacturing in plastic factories.. it's usually kidnapped rural kids in China. Anyway, they could also be employed creating canvas bags, or reusable grocery bags, which at least would have a chance of biodegrading without leeching toxins into the ecosystem when they reach a similar level of use and discard.

On your second paragraph...

Recycling is not a bust. No, recycled materials aren't always as nice as new ones, but on the other hand, you don't need to waste new resources if you can recycle the old ones. That is the point, which I think you seem to have missed. And jobs can be had making eco-friendly products too, you know.


(C) 2007 - 2009 Kate Hutchinson. All rights reserved.

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