You know, sometimes it’s all too much. We’re all busy and stressed out, low on funds, and sometimes low on hope. I don’t know about you, but when I talk to friends about the state of the environment, and the world, we’re all on the same page, a page titled, “Holy Crap, Where Do I Start?” Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you about. Because we don’t all have the time or money to install solar panels on our houses or start self-sufficient cooperative farms (would that we did). And there really are a couple of things that apply to EVERY person living in this city, and indeed this world, which if implemented would make a huge difference in our impact on the planet. This week, and for the next few issues, let me introduce you to the simplest, and easiest things to do to make it all better.
This Week’s Mission: Stop using plastic bags (and paper bags, while you’re at it). I had a bit of a shopping spree last week, and everywhere I went I tried to NOT take bags — but sales people looked at me like I was nuts when I offered to slip my new underwear into my tote bag, and kept asking if I was sure I didn’t want a bag for the quart of soymilk I could easily carry in my hand. At a certain fancy clothing store it took me five minutes to convince the cashier that I REALLY didn’t want one of their fancy, heavy, glossy paper sacks with cloth handles. The damn thing weighed more than the shirt I had purchased, and probably used as much energy to produce. Talk about overkill...
Every year, humanity uses between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags. That’s more than a million a minute. They block waterways, causing and worsening floods in Southeast Asia. They clog the digestive tracks of both land and marine animals, from cows to whales and sea turtles, killing hundreds of thousands of beasties every year. Each bag will have a lifespan of 1,000 years: instead of biodegrading, like paper or cotton, plastic just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, which work their way into the soil, and eventually into the food chain. But it’s still plastic, and it’s not good for you. Chemicals in plastics have been found to cause problems in the development of small children, among other things.
As a nation we use about 400 billion plastic bags a year. That takes an astonishing 12 million barrels of oil. And we also consume 10 billion paper bags annually, at a cost of 14 million trees (plus energy and water consumed). Enough is enough, no? It’s time to stop taking all that waste for granted, and time to start carrying a reusable cotton or hemp or string bag with you every time you go shopping.
Ireland, choking on its own plastic bag problem, implemented a revolutionary “PlasTax,” which charged consumers about 15 cents per bag at the time of purchase. Plastic bag use dropped 90 percent within the first year, and raised just under $10 million, which was put back into environmental projects. Bangladesh also banned plastic bags after it was found that they had dramatically worsened catastrophic floods: the ban has led to a rebirth of the jute trade, and increased manufacture of jute bags. Rumors of a New York City plastic bag tax are still just rumors, but maybe if we all call City Hall... One estimate claims it could raise $17 million a year for the city’s parks — as a long-time clamorer for more and better parks, that sounds like a win-win-win situation.
Want to go an extra step? Feel free to convince your local merchants to give a no-bag credit, or start taking your clean bags to an environmentally sensitive store that might reuse them, so you don’t throw out the bags you have after only one use. Thrift stores are often happy to have bags of bags donated.
Next Issue: Banish bottled water!