Monday, February 27, 2012

The Shame in Maine


Way of the future
Declare war on packaging
I just signed a petition about plastic bags in Maine. Since we have pretty much done away with these I was very shocked that the USA was so far behind on this, especially given the size of its population and that the neighbouring state, New Hampshire already had very effective drink deposit legislation way back in 1999. (There wasn’t a can or plastic bottle to be seen anywhere). Except for occasional lapses, the transition here has been relatively painless and you just wouldn’t think of going out now without taking your cloth bag. These are usually cheaply available in the big supermarkets with proceeds going to charity. I am surprised that more shops haven't seized on the idea of giving them as loyalty gifts, since they would not only save on bags, but with appropriate printing, they would have walking billboards.

Anyone who has read Donovan Hohns’ Moby Duck, in which he traces the fate of 28, 800 plastic bathtoys that had fallen from a container ship while crossing the Pacific, will know why it is important to get rid of this unnecessary curse. Plastics in general and bags in particular, cause considerable damage to marine life, and persist far longer in groundwater, the ocean and the food chain, than their temporary usefulness could ever justify. What I did not know, was how much petroleum it takes to make them. According to the petition website, the petrol needed to make fourteen plastic bags, would run a vehicle for one mile.
Future generations will no doubt scratch their heads and wonder how we could possibly have wasted a diminishing resource in such a stupid way. Plastic bags have not been around for that long. Before that people brought attractive baskets and string bags. Two -wheeled shopping trolleys were popular too and we usually took our backpacks to the market because they were a much more sensible way to carry bulk purchases anyway.
Germany was charging a small fee for plastic bags at least as far back as 1987 and you never saw anyone without their own. They also made manufacturers responsible for their packaging. It was remarkable to see how quickly they banded together and came up with intelligent solutions. The only downside now, is that where I always used to have cupboards bursting with  plastic bags, I now have trouble finding one when I need to pack shoes or wet towels. I do still keep the nice sturdy ones for that kind of thing. The others that invariably creep in with say, a bottle of wine brought by friends, I take back to the supermarket who recycle them. Though they get turned into things like moulded furniture, this too consumes energy and water and no doubt creates other health and environmental hazards.

While we are at it, you may want to sign the petition about NY and plastic bags  too. This site has an excellent overview of the problem
Also in Austin

 Australia still has some way to go in other areas. There are still too many plastic drink bottles around (expensive to collect in far flung regions), too many polystyrene takeaway containers and those awful plastic trays which are used for pre-packaged vegetables, meat and instant meals. These do not have the recycling logo on them so I never know what to do with them except to try to avoid them as much as possible. You can only make so many craft projects and seed trays out of them! Oh yes, and there are also those 3.5 million disposable nappies used by Australians and New Zealanders each day, though I got a “404 Site not found” error when I tried to follow that link.
Meanwhile, it’s good to see the KeepCups turning up in my favourite coffee shop and real milk in a real milk bottle at one of the local shops.  If I return the bottle, it will cost about the same as milk in a carton, though it contains 250mls (about 1 cup less) less. This would also help to reduce landfill.

Yes, I know there are many other problems, but Maine could at least pick the low hanging fruit. You can help the process along by declining to accept excessive  packing or returning it to shops. You could also try the Zero Waste Challenge. The Ethical Consumers Group ran these here in 2009, but you will find excellent resources on that site including some from the USA.

A burning question:
Why is it that no matter long I proofread the draft version, I never ever see all the typos until they are up there on the screen for all the world to see?  Bear with me. Also I am sure I am mostly preaching to the converted on this one but it amazes me that there are still people in so called 'first world' countries who think that we can go on living in a throwaway society.

No comments: