BAGS ARE DESTROYING THE ENVIRONMENT
by Whit Gibbons
September 12, 2004
Do you know
what sea turtles, Ireland, and grocery stores have in common? All have
been dramatically influenced by the excessive use of plastic bags.
a few years ago when we brought groceries home in a big brown paper sack?
Today we stuff everything from bottles to fresh fruit into those little
plastic bags with the carrying straps. We then use the bags at home to
hold everything from cat litter to lunch for the office. We cannot live
without these plastic bags, which we were told during the paper to plastic
transition would be environmentally prudent. We must cut down trees to
make the paper bags, and . . . I cannot really remember the rationale
given for substituting plastic for paper, but the handy new plastic product
seemed practical in many ways.
so many plastic bags have been produced throughout the world that if we
filled one-tenth of them with pennies we could pay off the national debt.
The most conservative estimate is that a half trillion plastic grocery
bags are produced each year. This is a staggering figure that might lead
to such statements as "if they were made into a blanket, they could
cover the entire earth and still have enough to cover the moon."
I do not know if that calculation is accurate, but I would not be surprised
if it were true. The United States uses about one billion each year, more
than 10 tons a day. For people who like to bring issues back to the practical
side of U.S. dependency on foreign oil, more than 10 million barrels of
oil are necessary to make enough plastic bags for the United States each
the bags go and do they cause any harm? Imagine being a leatherback sea
turtle, the most enormous turtle in the world. You eat jellyfish. And
where do you find jellyfish? Floating on top of the ocean, whereupon you
merely swim along with your mouth open when you find them. Unfortunately,
a tasty jellyfish and a floating plastic bag do not look much different
to a sea turtle, so thousands of bags are consumed each year. Numerous
sea turtle deaths caused by digestive systems clogged with plastic bags
have been documented in recent years. The same phenomenon extends to whales,
sea gulls, and seals. Plastic bags are a poor diet for any animal.
that everyone in America is as confused about economics as Alan Greenspan
and I are. Included in that quagmire of confusion is a monster that most
politicians are afraid to wake up-taxes. Well, since I am not running
for office, I can comfortably state that many of our environmental problems
would be readily solved if we would make people pay to pollute. In other
words, we should allow people to use or even waste all of the plastic
bags they want, as long as they pay additional state and federal taxes.
The new money in the treasuries can go to programs to clean up plastic
bags in a state, the country, and even the world.
have already implemented plans to attack the excessive use of plastic
bags. Ireland has instituted a personal tax of around a quarter for the
use of a plastic bag, and not surprisingly plastic bag consumption has
decreased by more than 90 percent. The Irish have simply stepped up recycling
and rediscovered less wasteful ways to carry small items. South Africa
has passed legislation to fine retailers who provide unrecyclable plastic
bags. Taiwan has regulatory procedures that will soon go in place to curtail
or limit plastic bag use in most shops and stores.
States is clearly the leader in many issues on a world scale, many of
which we should be proud of. But for others we should be ashamed. If an
Olympic sport were designed for a competition between countries that had
done the most for preventing pollution on a worldwide basis, we might
not even qualify to participate, let alone come anywhere near winning
even a bronze medal. Imagine Ireland, Taiwan, and South Africa receiving
their Olympic medals, while Americans reach into plastic bags for their
lunch as they watch.
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