Monday, December 3, 2007

What Doesn't Breathe

Fact of the day:
In this country we go through an estimated 100 billion plastic bags a year.

It takes about 12 million barrels of oil to make those bags.

Less than 1-5% are recycled each year.
It can cost $150 for a city worker to get a bag out of a tree.
Antarctica is littered with plastic bags.
The bags are virtually non-biodegradable -- and when they do break down, they leach toxins into the soil.
An estimated 100,000 sea creatures die each year eating them or getting tangled up in them.


25 children still die each year in the US at the hand of plastic bags.

All of this has to do with plastic -- the properties of plastic. That it does not breathe. That we are making a society -- for animals for soil for air for children -- that blocks breath.

Randy Cohen, the writer of the "Ethicist" column in the New York Times, was in this great little film on the oil drum this weekend. I tried to post it but it was locked in place. (Good for them.)

He said that left to our own devices we are bound to act lazily and for personal interest. (He wasn't talking about bags here, so I'm paraphrasing. He was talking about traffic). But he went on to say that it was in all of our best interests to be required to do the right thing. A very democratic, paternalistic view of politics, it must be said.

But it can't really be argued these days that saving the environment is not in the public interest.

Here's another number -- retailers spend about $4 billion a year on those plastic bags. They are not free; consumers do pay for them. The reliance on the plastic bag fuels the reliance on foreign oil. Perhaps here in lies an argument for the free marketeers out there.

San Francisco banned plastic bags in stores, and in another 6 months the ban will go into effect in chain stores as well. This ban is expected to remove about 800,000 bags from the system in a year.

This is one area of greenery where California cannot claim to be the global leader. In Taiwan and Ireland, you pay for plastic bags. They have been banned already in Rwanda, Bhutan, Bangladesh (where they cause flooding by blocking drains), South Africa (where distributing them can land you in jail) and Mumbai. Paris will join the list at the end of this year, the rest of France in 2010.

I will take the reusable bags off the banister in the hall and use them.
I will take the reusable bags off the banister in the hall and use them.
I will take the reusable bags off the banister in the hall and use them.
And I will
go back to the car to get them when I get to the front of the line.

These numbers seem to be fairly widely reported. Number for this entry came from reports in the Times, The Globe and The Economist, among others. No one seemed to cite sources.

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