Monday, January 3, 2011

The Ubiquitous Plastic Bag

Plastic bags or more precisely the preferential use of reusable bags is all the buzz these days when talking about concrete actions the consumer can take to help the planet, and for good reason; according to the New York Times, the quantity of plastic bags used in the United Sates of America, alone, may be as many as 1 billion plastic bags every year. 
Consider this: 
1- the average usage is of 20 minutes,
2- they will remain in our landfills or floating around our cities for over 100 years, 
3- if they do not end-up in landfills, they litter our oceans where they are a frequent cause of death for endangered marine life.
With this in mind, it may be a very good idea to find a way to reduce our consumption and find something to do with these bags.

Reducing the number of bags we use per year is quite an easy problem to solve: bring your own bags or leave without a bag. Most of the time the items we buy don’t actually need to be put in a bag; like chocolate bars, packs of gum, or even a bottle of water. Don’t blame the cashiers, they have been brainwashed into a highly efficient monotonous routine of greeting, offering another product or service, rapidly putting items in a bag, and wishing the customer a nice day. They don’t even realize they’re doing it. That’s where you come in. Before getting to the cash, put down your cell phone, put on your nicest smile, rapidly respond to the greeting and add “I won’t be needing a bag, thank you!” This might not register the first time so patiently repeat and if necessary, remove the items from the bag. They may find you annoying and perhaps a little tree hugging weird but keep it up, being slightly marginal for the right causes is worth it. A wise woman once told me that showing the example is not just a good way of effectively influencing others, but the only way. The most common argument for continuing to rely on grocery bags is the promise of a second use: for when you walk the dog, to put in your garbage bins, etc.. We all know plastic bags have a way of coming to you even when you are trying your best to avoid them. 

Side note to Dog Owners: Picking up your precious darlings excrement is most probably your least favorite part of the dog owning experience and although just leaving it there for the elements to wash always may seem to be the "greener" option, it not (especially in a city environment). There is a great option called BioBag. Whole Dog Journal gave these bags a 4 out 4 paw rating because this product passed the ASTM 6400 testing for compostable bags. You can purchase online without shipping fees at dirtworks.net.
Let's be realistic here, occasions will arise when will have no other choice but to accept plastic bags.  Most recycling centers accept plastic bags if they are all gathered up and not left to drift around your blue bin, however, recent information points to differing policies depending on the recycling center. These plastic bags will be melted down and hopefully be used to form new bags or other plastic objects, but their fate is uncertain. Interestingly, most plastic grocery bags are already made from recycled material, that’s one thing they’ve got going for them.

                In Nigeria, they have come up with an interesting idea to put to good use the large quantity of plastic bags that find their way into their city in spite of the recent ban and newly implemented fines; they melt them down to form super resistant cobblestones. The method is quite simple. First you melt down polyethylene bags (those that do not liberate toxic products) in an oven, then you add sand (an abundant resource in this arid region). After 30 minutes, you pour the resulting mixture into a mold and in less than 45 minutes, you have ready-to-use cobblestones. This project was started by Paolo Giglio, a Nigerian artisan, whose aim was to reduce the quantity of bags littering his home town and give jobs to the local people, however, even though the ministry has approved his products, no contracts have been received and the plastic stones are just piling up (2004).

              Plastic bags are practical, easy to dispose of and available; their presence in the future is undeniable. Never the less, a little effort and innovation on our part will reduce their impact on the aesthetics of our cities and the survival of bag eating wildlife like whales and turtles.   

How do you avoid hoarding plastic bags home?

Coming up: Japanese ingenuity to the rescue.  

Take care! 

3 comments:

  1. HI

    We are a group in India who are going to organise an event with the theme as plastic bags and the problems caused by them. I wanted to ask for your permission to use this photograph you have posted for a poster we need to make - and also check if you have a higher resolution version of it?

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