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Time is now to trash the plastic bag

Time is now to trash the plastic bag

In Sam Mendes’ 1999 film, American Beauty, the neighborhood marijuana dealer and film aficionado, Ricky, shows his new girlfriend a video of “the most beautiful thing” he’d ever filmed. On the screen, we see a plastic shopping bag skittering across an empty parking lost, caught in the cross winds with some dead, autumn leaves. One bag caught in an eddy of stormy air may seem beautiful, but certainly, Mendes was being ironic.

A roadside chain-link fence. The limbs of vegetation growing on the banks of an urban waterway. Power lines overhead and storm sewers under foot. Our global environment is being overrun and clogged by the use of close to 1 trillion plastic bags every year.

Perhaps that number wouldn’t be so bad (it’s a lot of bags, but out planet is pretty big, too) except for the fact that these bags don’t degrade. Rather than decompsing into elements and compounds that be reincorporated by the environment, plastic bags break down into smaller pieces of plastic, or reduce to a polymer.

To respond to the scourge of plastic bag litter, governments around the globe, usually at the city level, have begun banning plastic bags. Cities you’d expect, such as San Francisco, have restricted the bags from their border, as well as less likely locales, such as Brownsville and South Padre in Texas.

While the plastic industry will push back against any attempt to characterize their products as harmful, the convenience of having free and unlimited bags has done little to improve out quality of life, and has left a wake of bags rasping in wind, or creating a garbage patch in the Pacific large enough to get its own Wikipedia page.

Looking out the window of my home office, I can see the tell-tale yellow plastic of a local grocery store’s  shopping bag pressed into the low fence of my neighbor’s yard. With a shift in the wind, it may be picked up and moved across town, get caught in a tree, disappear down the sewer or alight on the surface of the passing river where it will meander toward St. Louis to catch the Mississippi down to the Gulf. The sun will weaken the bonds of the film until it disintegrates out of sight, but the plastic will never become something useful to nature.

We need to ask ourselves if the convenience of these products is worth the unsightly litter and damage to the environment (not to mention the demand for fossil fuels). Isn’t it time we take responsibility for our own bag needs? Carry reusable bags when you know you’ll be shopping. Bring them with you into the store.

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Comments (3)

  1. Michael Saturday - 03 / 03 / 2012
    I want to carry more reusable bags, but I can never remember to keep them with me when I go shopping.
  2. Patty Stephens Sunday - 04 / 03 / 2012
    We organized a ditch the plastic bag through the Interfaith Environmental Network. After about a year of work, this February, The Austin City Council passed an ordinance phasing out plastic bags.
  3. Kathy Miller Monday - 05 / 03 / 2012
    The way I remember to take the reusable bags to the store is by keeping a few in my car. What I want is an answer to how to dispose of what I scoop from cat litter boxes.

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