Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Plastic Bags, Shopping, Mindset, Fossil Fuel Misuse

By Paul K. Haeder

Referendum One is now being voted on in Seattle. “To plastic bag your stuff or not to plastic bag the goods,” that is the question.

Okay, that’s 20 cents per disposable bag charged to customers carried out of supermarkets, drugstores and convenience stores. The Mayor and other backers of this social engineering and carbon footprint and ecosystems protection measure expected it to take place this year – a so-called ban on plastic disposable bags. But the opposition forces got enough signatures to put Ref. One on the Aug. 18 ballot. Green and Gray Seattle citizens are now putting their mark on the thumbs up and thumbs down on the measure.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels proposed the ban on foam in restaurants and grocery stores, and the imposition of a 20 cent bag fee on plastic and paper also dovetailed with his idea of reducing the waste, energy and plastic/foam junk that gets released and washed to sea. Today, Seattle will either go back to business as usual, or be the first US city to hit both plastic and paper in a fee or ban.
Various forces got into the fray, including 7-Eleven convenience stores and the Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council, whose members include Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil. The old paradigm is to rebuff any effort to bring down our convenience factor and to retrain us to use reusable bags, demand less packaging, and learn to live in a world where small carbon footprints and ecological footprints will force even more drastic measures, according to many leaders and experts in the peak resources and climate change arenas.

Nickels’ inspiration was Ireland, where policy folk and lawmakers put in a 20-cent charge that reached 33 cents before customer habits changed.
Here’s a blurb from the New York Times:

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars… “I used to get half a dozen with every shop. Now I’d never ever buy one,” said Cathal McKeown, 40, a civil servant carrying two large black cloth bags bearing the bright green Superquinn motto. “If I forgot these, I’d just take the cart of groceries and put them loose in the boot of the car, rather than buy a bag.”

Gerry McCartney, 50, a data processor, has also switched to cloth. “The tax is not so much, but it completely changed a very bad habit,” he said. “Now you never see plastic.”

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France, Germany, India and China have either banned outright or greatly discouraged plastic bag consumption.

The USA does have a few shining examples of teeth put into these sorts of large-scale consumer measures to help reduce pollution, waste, and fossil fuel consumption. In 2007, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to ban petroleum-based plastic bags. A similar ban will take effect next year in Los Angeles.

In July 2009, Washington, D.C., approved a 5-cent fee on plastic bags. And back to the Seattle area, Edmonds voted to ban them “pending an environmental review” to be completed later in August.

Baltimore, Santa Monica and New Jersey are weighing similar measures. The cities of Boston and New York and Rhode Island and Delaware are looking at recycling programs for the bags over bans.

Here’s a bit on the direct effects of plastic bags on marine life, from the Associated Press:

One of the most dramatic impacts is on marine life. About 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year worldwide, according to Planet Ark, an international environmental group.

Last September, more than 354,000 bags—most of them plastic—were collected during an international cleanup of coastal areas in the United States and 100 other countries, according to the Ocean Conservancy.

The bags were the fifth most common item of debris found on beaches.

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Of course, going to the grocery store and piling up those foods and products in a reusable bag has a huge carbon and ecological footprint. See the Sightline Institute’s study on the impact of our grocery-going habits:


And here’s a study on how a high energy diet – meat and dairy based, junk or processed food -- versus a vegetarian diet is more telling on fossil fuel use, AKA energy and pollution used and produced.


Yep, going organic, eating lower on the food chain, and, yes, a good sturdy canvas bag, reused hundreds of times, all of this adds to lowering our carbon footprint.

PacifiCAD blog will keep up with this Washington State issue. If Ref. One passes, then Green Seattle will not be the leader for the rest of the country to give the green light on similar measures, bans, taxes, fees, what have you. Social engineering for automobile seat belt use? For child restraint devices? For stopping pregnant women from drinking booze? They’ve been put in place. Now it’s time to accept some of this stuff for the good of the environment.

Factoid One: China's ban on thin plastic bags, according to estimates, could save the nation 37 million barrels of oil. At the current rate of about $128 per barrel, that's more than $4.7 billion.

Factoid Two: Some 4 to 5 trillion plastic bags—including large trash bags, thick shopping bags, and thin grocery bags—were produced globally in 2002, according to the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2004 report. Roughly 80 percent of those bags were used in North America and Western Europe. Every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills, and leave an unsightly blot on the landscape.

Factoid Three: Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down, so even when an animal dies and decays after ingesting a bag, the plastic re-enters the environment, posing a continuing threat to wildlife. While most plastic bags eventually break down into tiny particles, smaller sea creatures may still eat the sand-sized fragments and concentrate toxic chemicals in their bodies.

And here's a web site with many of the plastic in oceans topics to further add to the debate:


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