Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Ubiquitous Plastic Bag

Typically, when I paddle my kayak down a river, no matter where it is located, there are plastic bags clinging to the branches of the adjacent trees. This occurs even when the rivers have long stretches without road access.

This morning, the New York Times editorial, Bagging Eternal Plastics, explained why plastic bags are so ubiquitous:“Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags every year, mountains of plastic that can last for 1,000 years, give or take a few centuries. And when they are not properly thrown away, they litter the countryside, killing birds or choking creatures like sea turtles. The bags now flap from so many bushes and trees that some South Africans started calling them their national flower.”

According to the WorldWatch Institute, 4 trillion to 5 trillion nondegradable plastic bags are used worldwide annually as last reported in 2002.

Is anything being done about “the world’s polyethylene mountain range,” as described in the New York Times editorial?

The answer is yes, though other countries, like Ireland, appear to be well ahead of the United States. However, on March 28, San Francisco was the first U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags. Supermarkets and chain pharmacies will have to use recyclable or compostable sacks.

Here in Healdsburg, a tourist mecca 75 miles north of San Francisco, my friend Tod Brilliant is launching an effort to “ban the bag.” I like Tod’s approach, which is to appeal to the merchants, convincing them this is a great idea.

For those of us who don’t want to wait for our election officials to take action:
1) take cloth bags with you when you shop
2) check out, a blog that is reporting on what’s happening around the world as individuals, communities, cities, states, and countries grapple with the ubiquitous plastic bag. You’ll know you’re not alone.

(photos: tree and stork:; turtle: TheAge.Com; under water: John's Marine and Environmental Blog)


Anonymous said...

Hi Gail
Yes plastic bags are a scurge. They're even worse in Baja Mex. where they litter almost every cactis and shrub along hwy 1. My other pet peave is plastic water bottles which are so popular now. The solution is to buy good reusable water bottles and fill them from the tap which probably has water as good as many of the popular brands many of which have been shown to be tap water anyway. Next time we have men walking on the moon, (hopefully not) They'll probably find plastic bags, plastic bottles and disposable diapers. Also they won't be hitting golf balls they'll be installing nuclear weapons.

Lyall said...

We teach the school children about the harm plastics of all sorts do to marine life.

Gail Jonas said...

David, I too noticed plastic bags blown up against anything higher than 12 inches tall when I was in Sayulita, Mexico.

Lyall,I'm glad to see that kids are learning about the impact of plastic bags on marine life. I hope this is information is being taught in all the schools.

One thing I didn't mention because I couldn't find a source is the amount of oil it takes to make plastic bags, not to mention the electricity involved in their production.

Ann said...

Bring your own bag! We can all buy canvas bags at many stores: Big John's, Safeway, Trader Joe's, as well as others, then stash them where you'll use them regularly.

If I only have a small number of purchases, I just hand carry them, when I forget my canvas bags. It is interesting to find that in stores like Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree, the cashiers sometimes find it arduous to bag into I offer to do my own bagging!

Of course, those umbiquitous bags seem to still find themselves collecting in my home (I haven't convinced everyone to do things my way), so I recycle at Big John's or Safeway, and I find myself getting fewer and fewer of them. Change takes time.

Tod, what a great task to take on! Is there any way I can help? I would love to ban plastic bags in Healdsburg, or at the very least encourage the use of reusables.

As to tap water, I had to address this issue, too, as Healdsburg has one of the nastiest tasting tap waters around! I use a Britta charcoal filter system and it takes out that awful flavor of chlorine, then I pour the water into "non-reusable" plastic bottles. Of couse, the charcoal filters come encased in plastic...which I just can't seem to completely get away from, but they are useful for many months, even though our family drinks copious amounts of water.

Anonymous said...

We have a collection of cloth bags and use them all (except when we inadvertently leave them at home)the time.

Re using those nonreusable plastic bottles, better check out whether that's a good idea. Last week the Chronicle had an article about plastics and it turns out lots of them not only harm the environment, but people too. I am sure you can find the article by searching the Chronicle website using the term "plastics."