Hey ... I Can't Eat 380 Billion Plastic Bags!
Look at that ... I bet you didn't know that turtles like plastic bags. In fact ... they like them so much that after the bag kills the turtle and nature takes over and decomposes the organic elements of the turtle's body and tissue ... the bag is released back into the world for another turtle's enjoyment. It's one of those special kind of gifts we humans have given to the rest of the planet ... special because it just keeps on giving. Aren't we so considerate?
I've been keenly aware of the plastic bag issue for a while ... I resisted them for a long time some years ago when the 'shift' started from paper to plastic. I succumbed to the momentum and although not really very happy about it ... I did my best to maximize the utilzation of the bags I consumed. By this I mean I'd make sure the bag was full before going on to bag #2 and bag #3 ... and it's a bit of a game to get the cashiers to fill the bag. In some cases it requires that you repeat your desire for all the items to be in one bag ... or to fill the bag ... as if you're crazy to go beyond three items per bag. And if you dare eclipse the 30% utilzation threshold of the bag ... international law apparently states that it must be 'double bagged' ... completely defeating the whole point of consolidating items into one bag.
And if you buy eggs or bread ... you just about have to hold them at gunpoint to NOT put those items into their seperate bags. In fact ... most cashiers in supermarkets are actually tranined to put eggs and bread in a seperate bag by default ... and you're just a deranged un-informed moron if you don't know that these items MUST be in the their own bags.
There appears to be this 'eggs in their own bag' dogma that seems to have spread like a nasty rumor that eggs break when they are in the vicinity of other grocery items. If you put your eggs in a bag w/ something else ... there will most surely be a hundred tiny white pieces of shell floating in a yellowish snotty goo simply due to the short drive from the store to your home. I try to do the bagging myself in all cases ... but I'm often in the express lane.
It's so totally out of control that a few months ago I bought a gift for a friend who just had their first child's first birthday. It was a little stuffed animal ... and I needed something to put it in to give as a gift so I went to my local Hallmark card store and purchased a gift bag big enough to hold the stuffed animal. I go to the counter an pay the $3.50 for the bag and the cashier proceeds to put my gift bag into another bag. That's right ... a bag in a bag! I quickly removed my needed bag and returned the useless bag back to the cashier ... which I was sure she would repeat exactly what she did w/ me if the very next customer was to be buying a gift bag as well.
Maybe it's just me ... but this is totally insane! Bags within bags within bags. Three items per bag ... then onto the next bag? Is it that nobody realizes the true cost ... the true impact of our endlessly wasteful lifestyle? Or is that they just don't have a clue? Maybe it's that they don't care? Or maybe it's just that there's no direct cost to them to use one bag ... or ten bags ... and if so ... maybe there should be. Something has to change here ... either individuals need to take responsibility for their cavalier and wasteful use of resources ... or they have to be told where the line of reasonableness is and reminded not to cross it.
How Many Bags Was That?
If you missed my reference above to the current rate of consumption of plastic bags ... here it is again. Each year ... in the United States alone ... we consume over 380,000,000,000 disposable plastic bags. Is that too many zeros for ya? That would be 380 billion bags ... a billion is a thousand million. So it's like 380,000 piles of 1 million bags each. It's enough bags to reach from the earth to the sun ... which is roughly 90 million miles away.
Don't believe that 'reach the sun' reference? Here's the calculation: assuming the bag is 16" long that would be 1.33 ft. Divide 5280 ft/mile by 1.33 and you'll get 3969 bags to span a mile. Divide 380 billion bags by 3969 bags/mile and that gives you 95.74 million miles.
All these bags are made from oil ... and to make the 380 billion bags it takes 1.6 billion gallons of oil. The United States consumption of oil each year is sourced from a local production of approximately 50% ... coming predominantly from the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. The other 50% is imported and comes from a variety of sources including Canada, Mexico, South America, and the Middle East [ref]
How Long Does The Bag Last?
This could vary wildly depending on a few factors. If you froze the bag to zero degrees kelvin for a minute or so ... and then quickly heated the bag to 2000 degrees farenheit for another minute ... it wouldn't last long at all. You might have a mess on your hands ... but at least you'd be rid of that damn bag.
Since it's not likely you'd be able to freeze to 0 degrees Kelvin or heat to 2000 degrees farenheit ... just throwing it away means that it's likely to end up in a landfill where it will be buried under piles of dirt ... away from the sun and air ... and in this case it's likely to outlive you by about 900 years ... give or take a few years.
That Bag's Gonna Cost Ya
There are now a few forward thinking retailers who see the same issue as I'm discussing here. Ikea, the Swedish furniture retailer has a program where they charge customers $0.05 for each disposable bag that they use. The collected money is donated to the non-profit environmental group, American Forests. This policy, since it's inception in March of '07, has reduced disposable bag consumption by 50% in the United States. In the UK this same policy started in June of 2006 cut disposable bag consumption by 95%. I personally don't think they're charging enough ... 'cause in our money is everything capitalist pig world ... it seems to be the only real incentive to move people.
Ban the Disposable Plastic Bag
Now there's an idea. There is some movement in this direction. The scourge of a 94% disposal rate of these bags on local municapalities and cities are forcing some to ban the 'eternal life' plastic bag and requiring the use of compostable bags. It's likely that the blind ignorance of consumers and retailers alike will lead to a spread of this type of policy.
The Constant Change Cycle ... And Why You Should Resist It
The Constant Change Cycle is my own term used to describes a strategy executed by those that produce product and or services to get you to throw away whatever you now have ... and replace it with exactly the same thing ... except it's better ... or at least that's what they tell you. A few areas where the Constant Change Cycle is applied on a daily basis are the following:
- Fashion (one of the best examples; and it cycles round and round)
- Cell phones (how many other things will they be able to make these things do)
- Computers (they've been doing it here for their whole history)
- DVD players (there's nothing quite a like a standard ... so lets create six of them)
- Televisions (they just broke into this market recently)
- Radios (they're breaching this market right now)
- Automobiles (you're not cool if your car is more than two years old)
- Home improvement (floors, tile, paint, wallcovering; it's like fashion for the home)
I can hear the arguments already ... 'the market will take care of that'. I'm not sure what market that might be when the true cost for these wasteful practices are rarely computed ... and even more rarely assessed against the actual sources or generators of the waste.
The manufacturers of products never end up paying a dime for how wasteful they design their packaging ... or how cheaply they build their product which will increase the frequency of its replacement ... or what the real cost is to dispose of the stuff they sold you.
In fact, 'the market' promotes and rewards an attitude where any concern for these issues is ignored. If I'm the president of CellPhones Inc ... and my marketing guy says we need to package our product a certain way in order to sell more of them ... we're doing it. If we discover that the consumer will be willing to buy another one of our cell phones in nine months when we come out w/ our next model ... we'll be doing that too. If someone brings to my attention the hundreds of millions of old cell phones that are going into the junk pile in nine months ... what's it to me ... how can I make money if I don't sell them another one?
Once you the consumer let the producer know that you don't care that he doesn't care ... who's going to care? Once you let them know that you'll be willing to buy a new one of their products on a shorter change cycle ... they be selling it to you with a smile ... talking about how much more fulfilled and happy your life will be. They're going to try to shorten the cylce as much as they can ... and they'll do it as long as you keep buying. It's not going to be too long before they have bottled water in a package size that represents one sip of the water ... then toss it away ... and they'll sell that to you like it's a 'feature' ... a beneficial quality that you should desire ... and be willing to pay a premium for.
There really doesn't seem to be any end in sight ... a vacuum of leadership from those in this country that are suppossed to be representing the interests of the electorate. Looks to me like the interests that are represented are those of the inconspicuous and unfettered producers of wasteful products ... increase the sales ... increase the margins ... shorten the change (replacement) cycle ... don 't do anything that might slow 'the progress' ... it could effect jobs and the economy.
Resist this inconspicuous consumption ... the churn of the 'Constant Change Cycle' ... you're contributing to the shortening of this cycle ... the wasteful utilization of resources ... and the burgeoning problems w/ what to do w/ all the old stuff that you're replacing.