The Garbage, Man

April 9, 2008

Apropos of my recent post on Seattle’s proposed plastic- and paper-bag fee: A piece by Danny Westneat, a personal fave columnist for one of my local papers, on Curt Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle-based ocean garbologist. (Yes. I said garbologist.) Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who has been tracing seafaring junk for years, didn’t show much enthusiasm for Mayor Nickels’ bag-fee proposal. The bags, he says, aren’t the issue.

Writes Westneat:

Last month, Ebbesmeyer held a “Dash for Trash” in Ocean Shores. In two hours, 50 people collected an astonishing 2,000 pounds of junk from the beach. Almost all of it was plastic — from fishing floats to shotgun shells to dolls from Japan. Yet very little of it was the plastic bags targeted by Seattle.

Moreover, after conducting his own study of ocean-going offal at Myrtle Edwards Park, Westneat collected nearly 175 pieces of trash. Of that, only one item was one of the offending plastic bags.

So. Where does this put us? Should the Mayor scrap sacks and set his sights on other plastic items? Drink bottles? Fishing floats and shotgun shells? Japanese dolls?

Possibly. But probably not: while the detritus that clogs our oceans may not be composed solely of plastic grocery bags, decreasing the demand for said sacks — and for paper sacks, too; the fee applies to all store-provided satchels — is key to the green cause. Factor in the monetary incentive that spurs awareness of consumption and overuse, and you’ve got a leg up on Smallifying Seattle.

Of course, like the rising price of gasoline, the 20 cents/bag may well be written off as part and parcel to the purchasing experience. Sure, fewer folks are driving (in fact, Seattleites are reporting in phalanxes to ride public transit), likely due to the climbing cost of fuel, but, overall, gas consumers haven’t reached their breaking point. Will the extra cents be any different? Or will they simply get panned, but paid?

One last note, to be filed under Wowzers: Ebbesmeyer told our star reporter about the “great Eastern garbage patch,” an island of garbage the size of Texas. Waterworld, anyone?

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