Writing this column, week after week, I sometimes feel like all I do is complain, or apprise others of things to complain about. But, at long last, something to cheer about: the decades-long ban on beekeeping in New York City has been reversed. I wrote about the antiquated law last year, after having been put in touch with several of the groups that were fighting the ban. Bees are good for the environment, and with scores of New Yorkers already clandestinely nurturing hives, to no ill effect, why not do the right thing and encourage urban apiarists?
Well, common sense prevailed: bring on the bees (and local honey). This sweet victory left me wondering what other common-sense laws might be passed to improve life in the Big Apple, and improve the local environment.
The easiest place to start is a plastic bag ban and tax. Plastic bags last forever, and we use billions of them every year. They clog storm drains, choke (and kill) sea animals, and flutter endlessly in tree branches. They keep otherwise biodegradeable trash from biodegrading properly. And, of course, their production requires millions of gallons of oil, a non-renewable resource. We do not need them: there are 100 percent compostable versions available, made from plant-based materials. The 4th Street Coop recently took the laudable step of switching to these Biobags, eschewing the use of any new plastic produce sacks.
As if that weren’t enough, the taxing of bags in places that have banned them has raised significant money to further environmental causes. Ireland reduced its consumption of bags by 90 percent, and in the first year after introducing its Plastax raised nearly $10 million. Given the current economic situation here in the city, and the state, that’s money that could be used to replace decimated environmental and educational funding, right? Right. And it would end up relieving retailers of the need to spend billions on all those plastic bags, costs that are passed on to consumers.
Another common-sense quickie, in much the same vein, is the passing of an even Bigger Better Bottle Bill. I know, the recently expanded bottle bill went into effect last November, finally giving�ƒ�€š�‚ bottled water bottles the same five-cent deposit that soda and beer bottles and cans have had for years. One of the major improvements of that new bill was its reassignment of uncollected funds—the deposits paid that aren’t redeemed by returned bottles—from the bottling companies to the state: those deposits could shape up to be a real windfall for New York.
But lobbying by drink-makers kept some drinks off the list, despite the fact that their containers litter our streets by the millions: iced teas, sports drinks and flavored waters sidestepped the ban and remain deposit-free. And deposits aren’t just meant to lessen the waste stream, but also to encourage recycling and the attendant, significant energy savings. So why exclude some drinks? In fact, why not put a deposit on every recyclable container: wine bottles, yogurt containers, vinegar bottles—the more the merrier, and the greater the savings and revenue.
Finally, the most common-sense change would be to legalize marijuana and tax it the same way cigarettes and alcohol are taxed. All research points to pot being no more harmful than alcohol or cigarettes, and our attitude toward it is just like Prohibition-era attitudes towards booze: overblown and expensive. Legal pot would create a massive revenue stream that could be channeled into all kinds of environmental action, from building parks to cleaning up toxic sites. Not to mention the savings from fewer arrests, reduced court costs, and thousands of “criminals” kept out of jail. Pot growing would create green jobs, keeping land under cultivation rather than building on it, and produce an all-natural, high-value (teehee) product that can be produced locally.
As a treatment for illnesses from cancer to MS to anxiety, legal pot would be cheaper and less toxic than many pharmaceuticals—one serious threat to the environment right now is pharmaceutical residue that ends up in our water and soil. Pot-as-treatment might reduce our dependence on pharmaceuticals, and their presence in our environment.
So why not smoke green to go green?