I want to say one word to you. Plastics.
January 22, 2008
Everyone’s talkin’bout plastic! No more Nalgenes — SIGG is in the house (check out their creepy severed-head bottle tops in the opening Flash animation). In China, no more plastic bags. In Australia, almost no more plastic bags. In L.A., possibly no more plastic bags. In an individual show of earth-love, Green as a Thistle author Vanessa gave up plastic altogether. And, in a “bold move,” Whole Foods Market today announced that its retail locations will no longer offer the paper or plastic option. It’s paper or poplin from here on out.
As I wrote at the outset of the year, the ubiquity of plastic is a bit overwhelming. (Though I still turn to that most inspiring video on at-home plastic making, featuring a rad sountrack.)
Given this, it seems that bans on plastic totes make sense. But what are the provisions of these bans? What’s the plan of attack? Will retailers simply pay more for their bags, and, quite possibly, pass those costs onto their shoppers? Or will plastic bags be outlawed outright? In Ireland, the government imposed a plastic sack tax. Good method, say I. Money talks, people. Makes consumers pause when they have to pay a mite of the true external cost — that is, the cost to the environment — of that tissue-thin throwaway. Ideally, an additional dollar per grocery trip or an extra nickel for Papa’s brand new bag could reduce the widespread demand for plastic sacks, and, in the long run, pare down the amount of waste funneled into our landfills and out of our oil wells.
But if plastic bags are deemed contraband, what will we use to tote the rubbish to the curb? And none of this “we don’t need trash liners” garbage. Trash begets trash. It leeches toxic liquids, known in the waste disposal industry as “garbage juice.” So, yes, Virginia; we do need trash sacks. Certainly, we have biodegradable bags, fashioned from cornstarch and other sundry materials, each with its own high eco-cost of manufacture. But biodegradable means bupkis once entombed in concrete.
Given this, it seems that the plastic bag bans, whether made good through tax or taboo, miss the mark by a hairsbreadth. While anything to weaken demand for fossil-fuel–based products earns a plum, it seems that taking away the plastic bags redresses a symptom without considering the disease itself. Just as trash begets trash, consumption begets consumption. And if we can reduce that — a.k.a., the disease — we’re onto something.
*ps. I can’t wait to read John Naish’s Enough: Breaking Free from the World of More. Anyone gotten a copy yet? If not, while we wait for our local biblios to bring it in for check-out, here’s an excerpt.