Paul Andersen: Fair Game
September 19, 2011
Getting into the habit, that’s the biggest challenge. Remembering those reusable bags on every grocery run is the toughest learning curve, especially for baby boomers with dimming brain functions.
When I do remember, and I’m asked, “Paper or plastic?” I drop my reusable grocery bag onto the counter, fix the clerk with a Clint Eastwood squint, and paraphrase Nancy Reagan: “Just say no – to plastic.”
Can it be that simple in Aspen? Hell, no! While many will cheer Aspen for going the full monty last week on the plastic bag ban, others will jeer City Council as tyrannical and meddlesome. Some will say the bag ban is more bother than benefit, that it doesn’t make a rat’s ass of difference in the long run, that it’s all Mick’s fault.
Opposition is futile: A bag ban is coming. It makes sense environmentally and economically, and one day it will sweep the nation and the world. That’s unfortunate for plastic bag manufacturers and fossil fuel producers who profit from plastics, but sacking these outmoded business models is the only sensible way to addressing the mess that plastic is making of the planet.
Consider “Plastic Island,” or what Wikipedia calls the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” If Homer were writing “The Odyssey” today, he would have Odysseus sail into this heinous mess to convene with Plasticus, god of the universe. For most of the known world, plastic has divine status for the ease and comfort it affords, but not for the ridiculous packaging in which ease and comfort are wrapped.
Plastic Island is defined as a gyre, or swirl, of marine litter in the North Pacific Ocean that covers a vast area with floating plastic crap, chemical sludge and other debris too offal to mention. One day scientists will find Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa and Sasquatch entombed in this man-made miasma.
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When Benjamin, “The Graduate,” is told: “There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?!” None of us ever thought about Plastic Island.
Now we’re thinking about plastics as Aspen considers forcing consumers and grocery chains to act conscientiously. Aspen’s bag ban will infuriate feckless and forgetful consumers, but it makes local and global sense. It also says: This community cares.
Just in case anyone in Aspen hasn’t been covered with a suffocating array of plastic factoids, here are some from a variety of websites:
The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually, estimated cost to retailers: $4 billion; only 1-3 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide; plastic bags are made of polyethylene, which is a petroleum product, which contributes to air pollution and energy consumption; it takes 1,000 years for polyethylene bags to break down; plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photo-degrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways where they enter the food chain when animals ingest them; approximately 1 billion seabirds and mammals each year die a painful death of strangulation and choking by ingesting plastic bags.
If you think paper is better, you’ve got another think coming: Americans consume more than 10 billion paper bags per year, representing the cutting of approximately 14 million trees; most of the pulp used for paper shopping bags is virgin pulp, which is stronger; paper production requires hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, plus toxic chemicals like sulfurous acid, which can lead to acid rain and water pollution.
Nearly everything we consume involves plastic, and the Aspen City Council is to be commended for taking a stand on the containers used for our every purchase. If we can become more aware of plastic bags, maybe, just maybe, we can sensitize ourselves to the impacts from private jets, monster homes, gas guzzling cars, Jacuzzis, idling engines, wasted lighting, hair dryers …
OK, let’s get realistic: It’s best to go one small step at a time. Plastic bags are a small step, but they move us toward the bigger picture of our collective assault on nature. Plastic bags are part of our mess, and it’s time to clean up our room.
Ideally, movements like Aspen’s bag ban can lead to eradicating Plastic Island before Donald Trump builds a casino there adjoining Dolly Parton’s Plasticland Theme Park, where twin pavilions stand in mammary of Dolly’s fantastic plastic boobs.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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