"Because you can't hug a tree if you can't find one."

10/10/2007

Plastic bags, Part II

I know I wrote about plastic bags the other day, but I have so much more to say about them. I can't stand the things, and not just because I tripped on one on the sidewalk the other day and nearly broke a tooth. On a less personal note, plastic bags litter the earth, sea and air, they are a poor use of resources, a hazard to marine life and they contribute to the solid waste problem. A quick Google search for "plastic bag" +ban will bring up articles about the huge number of places (from tiny municipalities to entire countries) that are considering banning disposable plastic bags or have already enacted such legislation. This has got to mean that the bag's days are numbered; it won't be long before the ban is in effect everywhere.

What I don't understand is why many people are so attached to the disposable bag. (They are not attached to one particular disposable bag, of course, but to an endless supply of them.) There are those who worry about how they would clean up after their dogs, or what they will put their trash in. Others, like the readers who left some very virulent and racist comments to this article, view any future limit to free and flowing plastic bags as a personal threat. They think "cheaply available plastic" is a symbol of all that is good (and convenient) in the world, and that anyone who disagrees must be a "a moron of the highest caliber." Further, they have never heard of tote bags, because they are fearful about being condemned to carrying things on their heads or in a rickshaw (!) if plastic bags are banned. And where do supermarket chains stand on this issue? Instead of looking forward to the profits to be made from charging for bags, or the savings from people bringing their own, they choose to focus on how bulky and expensive paper bags are, and predict that their businesses will be in ruins.

So when the cheap plastic bag is finally a thing of the past, what will happen to all the consumers who insist it is their god given right to collect them from every store in the land? They claim they will never remember to bring their own bags. It would be way too inconvenient. Will they be forced to go from store to store, juggling their purchases in their arms, leaving a trail of twinkies and plug-in air fresheners everywhere they go?

Using plastic bags is a bad habit, just like smoking (or driving gas guzzling vehicles). I suggest going cold turkey: quit the bag habit for one week and see what happens. Will the tote bag make your backpack, purse or briefcase a bit bulkier? Will you have to think twice before adding that second bag of chips to your grocery cart? Will you occasionally have to make an unplanned stop to buy a quart of milk and carry it home in your hands for all the world to see? Sure. But after a week (or two or three) the whole debate might seem a bit silly. "Paper or plastic? Who needs them!" you'll say. Humans are so smart and creative, we'll come up with more (sustainable) alternatives and never miss the disposables.

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