Thursday, December 6

Forget Global Warming, ACT NOW!

Plastic Bags Fill up our Landfills and Collect in our Oceans

There's been lots of news stories lately about global climate change and how humans are driving it. Well, perhaps that's so, and we can argue about details, but there's not really a huge amount most of us can do about it one way or the other in the short run. Mostly, people live wherever they live and they're locked into a relatively narrow carbon footprint. What's worse, is that all this focus on carbon emissions takes our attention off of stuff we CAN do to help our our planet at minimal cost and without global treaties. Hence, today's post title.

One example is the amount of oil we simply throw into landfills or dump in the ocean in the form of plastic bags, where it gets ingested by sea creatures or simply floats around in a giant garbage patch. A few localities have banned plastic bags. I'm not sure that is a good approach. I'd rather see a 25 cent charge per plastic bag imposed, with the revenues rebated to businesses based on their retail sales. In other words, places that sell a lot, but don't use plastic bags, would find a nice net revenue stream. I'm sure my loyal reader can think of lots of other revenue-neutral approaches, and anybody that really MUST use a plastic bag would still be able to do so, just as people can still smoke if they wish to do so.

Plastic Bags Not Welcome in Grays Harbor - What to Do?
The Gray's Harbor site that doesn't recycle plastic bags states:

"Plastic is a synthetic and highly malleable material made from a broad range of organic
polymers. Enough plastic is thrown away each year to completely circle the earth four
times. On average, an American throws away an estimated amount of 185 pounds of
plastic annually. Plastic is one of the types of waste that takes the longest to
decompose. On average, it takes plastic items up to 1000 years to break down fully.
Although certain plastics take less time, it still takes everyday plastic bags 10-20 years
to break down. A plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to finally decompose."


You might wonder why I bring this up now? Well, I've been doing a bit of investigation about plastic bags, and plastic bag recycling isn't a whole lot more realistic than the notion of "clean coal." Mostly, the hype about recycling plastic bags is a scam to make people not feel bad about supporting a form of pollution that could be stopped easily, and NOW. There isn't really a societal need for people to use large quantities of the things.

First off, most neighborhood recycling programs PROHIBIT plastic bags in that nice blue recycling container. It messes up their equipment. So, where DO put these plastic bags go? Well, thanks to the Internet, I went to the website that was printed right on a large plastic bag I was given that had junk newspapers inside. If you click on THIS LINK, it'll take you there. What's more, you can actually BUY the domain!

Golly, Plastic Bags are "Green" - if You Don't Actually Investigate
Further investigation through the Gray's Harbor site that tells me they don't accept plastic bags for recycling took me to another site that actually attempted to tell me where to take these bags. What's more, if you click on THIS LINK, it'll take you there. You can even put in your own zip or post code.

Well, at Least THIS Web Site has Information, Albeit Dated and Wrong Information

Unlike the first site, at least this one works. Unfortunately, it tells me that the nearest place to recycle my plastic bags is 25 miles away. However, that's not the worst of it. The Safeway really doesn't have a place to recycle plastic bags. Even worse, the JC Penney that's listed was closed over five years ago. I haven't checked at the Wally World, but I certainly don't recall seeing anything that looked like plastic bag collection. I also checked my zip in North Texas and it was similarly out of date, though at least the places that don't accept plastic bags are closer than their Washington State equivalents.

Still, we cyclists are not without our own resources. My bike bags are perfect for getting groceries and small hardware items. For bigger stuff, I bring my bike trailer or my back pack. What's more, since I still wind up getting plastic bags and plastic food wrap despite my best efforts, I save them to collect dog poop during daily dog walks. Sure, you can buy dedicated dog poop bags, but since they cost around 7 cents per bag, plastic store bags one gets without even trying are a better bet. After asking, I found that the local IGA gives a 7 cent rebate if you bring your own bag. Nowadays, the only time I get plastic bags there is when they forget to give me the rebate. In that case, I actually ask for them, noting they work for other purposes even if I don't need them for groceries. Many cashiers forget once. Few forget after I bring the subject up when they do. Ditto for the store manager who forgot - once. 

While it is fine to think globally about climate change, acting locally is something each of us can do each and every day. We actually have to act. In my Texas neighborhood, the local trash company has "leaf collection" days; they pledge the leaves will go to compost. Last weekend, there were hundreds, if not thousands of plastic bags with leaves in my neighborhood that wound up going to a landfill where the plastic will still remain after all of us have passed away. Sadly, kraft paper bags are easier to fill, but all that got picked up were my 20 bags, and 5 more from the neighbor across the street. One of the plastic bag neighbors actually caught up to the compost collection truck while they were collecting my leaf bags and leaves in order to complain they hadn't picked up his leaves which were in plastic bags. I stuck up for the garbage men, noting they could not dump his plastic into their truck since it would contaminate the compost. In my Ocean Shores neighborhood, there aren't even any "leaf collection" days and there's talk they will soon BAN plastic bags. Sheesh. It's why I'm composting as much as possible. Besides, the sandy soil in Ocean Shores needs all the help it can get.

With New Years coming up, it is an opportunity to resolve to simply stop using plastic wherever possible. Even for dog poop, I have found that my biodegradable compost bags will also work with dog poop, if there isn't anything better simply lying around.

4 comments:

Khal said...

We have a bunch of canvas bags we have collected over the years. We even found a source of cotton mesh fresh produce bags. With a little personal innovation we can cut our footprint at least somewhat.

Trevor Woodford said...

A good interesting post......

Chris said...

With all the hullabaloo about plastic straws, why is no one ranting about the plastic cups that go with the straws ? Those cups plastic cups are bigger in volume than the plastic straws! Doesn't make sense.

cafiend said...

I started reusing the plastic bags from the produce department to buy produce on subsequent grocery runs. And a lot of produce I don't even bag. Some of the produce bags have seen dozens of missions. For the groceries themselves I use canvas bags. When larger plastic bags make their way into the house, they get used as trash can liners, vapor barrier socks, and other convenient uses.

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