Ozville in Action

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Plastic Bags and Poems

Recently I told you something about a trash vortex (if you didn’t read it, I’ll repeat it for you). Which reminded me of another item found floating around in the sea. Plastic bags.

Every time I go shopping for groceries, I come home with several plastic bags. Some of them are even doubled up, and sometimes they have only two or three items in them. When I buy clothing or pet supplies, I get more bags. I shove them all into a little corner, for those random times I might need a plastic bag. There are way more there than I'll ever need. So sometimes I throw some away. I just trust that my trash is taken care of, and things that should get recycled, are recycled.

Recently, I was made aware of this thing called 'the trash vortex'. This really made me start rethinking the plastic bag collection, and just how many I accumulate and discard. According to Greenpeace:

The North Pacific sub-tropical gyre covers a large area of the Pacific in which the water circulates clockwise in a slow spiral. Winds are light. The currents tend to force any floating material into the low energy central area of the gyre. There are few islands on which the floating material can beach. So it stays there in the gyre, in astounding quantities estimated at six kilos of plastic for every kilo of naturally occurring plankton. The equivalent of an area the size of Texas swirling slowly around like a clock. This gyre has also been dubbed "the Asian Trash Trail" the "Trash Vortex" or the "Eastern Garbage Patch".

This perhaps wouldn't be too much of a problem if the plastic had no ill effects. The larger items, however, are consumed by seabirds and other animals which mistake them for prey. Many seabirds and their chicks have been found dead, their stomachs filled with medium sized plastic items such as bottle tops, lighters and balloons. A turtle found dead in Hawaii had over a thousand pieces of plastic in its stomach and intestines. It has been estimated that over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement.

If you didn’t see this yesterday when you clicked on the link to Chris' work, check it out now. Every 5 seconds, 60,000 plastic bags are used in the US, and he’s illustrated it for us.

Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags each year, according to the Worldwatch Institute, and only 0.6 percent to 1 percent of them are ever recycled.

From www.sixwise.com, here are 6 reasons to give up plastic bags, if you're not already convinced.

1. They Use up Natural Resources: The most common plastic bags you see today are made from polyethylene. This material is made from crude oil and natural gas -- both non-renewable resources.

"Every time we use a new plastic bag they go and get more petroleum from the Middle East and bring it over in tankers," said Stephanie Barger, executive director of Earth Resource Foundation in Costa Mesa, California. "We are extracting and destroying the Earth to use a plastic bag for 10 minutes."

2. They Harm Wildlife and Marine Life: Plastic bags are now ubiquitous in our environment, and animals both on land and in water are being strangled, choked and killed by them. Plastic bags are now the fifth most common debris item found on beaches, according to the Ocean Conservancy, and international coastal cleanups have turned up more than 354,000 stray bags each year.

Meanwhile, Planet Ark, an international environmental group, estimates that, worldwide, 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year.

3. They Create Litter: Plastic bag use is now so prolific around the world that the bags have become a major source of litter. Aside from polluting beaches and waterways, plastic bags blowing around streets in China are so common they've earned the name "white pollution." And in South Africa, the bags littering the countryside are called "national flowers." In some African areas, people are even "harvesting" the plastic bags to make bags, hats and other crafts.

4. They Take a Long Time to Biodegrade: Most plastic bags used either end up as litter or in landfills (less than 1 percent are recycled). In a landfill, it's estimated that one plastic bag takes about 1,000 years to biodegrade. A plastic bag floating around as litter takes about 20 years.

5. They're Expensive: It isn't costly to produce plastic bags, per say, but the estimated costs to retailers who give away plastic bags for free amounts to about $4 billion a year.

6. They can be Hazardous to Humans: Plastic bags pose a suffocation hazard to people, particularly children, and pets. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) receives an average of 25 reports each year in which a child has suffocated from a plastic bag.

But don't just start using paper:

As it turns out, we're no better off (and may actually be worse off) using paper bags than plastic ones. Consider these facts from the EPA:

· Paper bags generate 70 percent more air pollution and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.

· It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.

· The trees from which paper bags are made are a renewable resource, whereas plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources.

· Paper bags take up more landfill space (2,000 plastic bags weight just 30 pounds, whereas 2,000 paper bags weight 280 pounds).

· Paper bags in landfills don't break down much faster than plastic bags (because they're not exposed to water, light, oxygen and other elements that they need to biodegrade).

· Paper bags are more likely to be recycled (about 20 percent of paper bags are recycled, compared to under 1 percent of plastic bags).

There are many places to buy reusable bags - in your grocery store, in craft stores, or online. There are also some very creative ways of using plastic bags to create more lasting totes, by crocheting or fusing bags together. Try keeping track of how many plastic bags you save, once you start using a tote bag! If you don’t have a tote, buy one from your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Or, if you want to support Ozville, you can buy an Ozville tote! You can support other good causes, like TheHungerSite, by buying their totes, too. Tote bags also make good gifts – and wrapping. By putting presents (I know Christmas is over but there are birthdays!) inside a cute tote, you’ve just saved wrapping paper and plastic bags! Voila! You’re on your way to a greener planet.

And now for some poetry.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
-Emily Dickinson

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