In 1955 Life Magazine presented a new way of living. One that would bring a fellow stay at home mom convenience: disposables. You don’t have to do dishes every night, just throw them away. You don’t need to bring your own bag to the grocery store, get a disposable one. Your store bought food is conveniently pre-packaged and ready for your use. When you are done, just throw it away. Out of sight, out of mind. This is the first consumer marketing pitch. And I have been sadly following it for years.
I have officially run out of plastic bags. See I had this hidden stash of them under the kitchen sink. They are perfect for stinky diapers, and “accidents.” When my stash would get low, a panic set over me…why did I happen to forget to bring my reusable bag every time? But now I find myself refusing plastic. Since the plastic bags were so readily supplied at the grocery store, I felt like I was getting my use out of them. Then this “green way of thinking” hit me. But not in the typical way.
I have a fascination with birds. And nests. A couple of months ago I found a nest. Inspecting and enjoying the wonder in how a bird weaves each piece so delicately but firmly, I stumbled upon a long string of a plastic bag intertwined throughout the nest. Other plastics and debris decorated this bird’s home.
All of these thoughts flooded my mind with the sad truth of this. A sense of guilt hit me. How are my day to day choices affecting this beautiful world that I happen to live on? If a harmless bird is taking something potentially harmful thinking it is good, it is adapting to its surroundings- and that surrounding is covered in plastic.
Before I lose you, and assumptions gather that I am liberal hippie tree lover. I did not use to care about these things. I never thought twice of eco-friendly, environment, global warming yada yada….but to stand before this pure in nature nest, and see that my choices are corrupting its state saddens me. Do you not think that God cares for this Earth and what happens to it? After all, God did say that this world was “good” before you even entered into the picture.
Personally, ignorance of the environment and my influence has to be recognized and changed. Educating myself and staying informed is a necessary process. When I read statistics like this, I can’t ignore the facts:
- About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
- U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually, and costs retailers $4 billion. (Wall Street Journal)
- 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide.
- It takes 1000 years for polyethylene bags to break down. But they do not biodegrade. Plastic bags photdegrade-gradual breaking down of small toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways. And yes, animals do ingest them. About 1 billion seabirds and mammals die each year from eating plastic bags.
The single use shopping bag was invented by ExxonMobil- a Swedish company. The bags were introduced to the American public in the mid-Sixties. Adored for convenience, durability, and a cheaper price to produce than paper. However, they are a pain to recycle. “Plastic bags and other thin-film plastic is the number-one enemy of the equipment we use,” says Jeff Murray, vice president of Far West Fibers, the largest recycler in Oregon. “More than 300,000 plastic bags are removed from our machines every day — and since most of the removal has to be done by hand, that means more than 25 percent of our labor costs involves plastic-bag removal.”
Captain Charles Moore sailed in the reality that every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it. He brought awareness to the Great Garbage Patch, an area of the Pacific Ocean strewn with floating plastic debris which is twice the size of Texas. “As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean,” Moore later wrote in an essay for Natural History, “I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.”
In Moore’s 1999 study he discovered there are 6 times more plastic in this section of ocean than the zooplankton. In 2002, a study revealed plastic outweighed zooplankton by a ratio of 2:5. This number shocked many oceanographers. And shocks me.
Putting environment aside, wouldn’t you want to save money? I know I like to. If I am going to use oil to produce something it better be worth it. In June 2008, China banned plastic bags. In just one year, the country eliminated 40 billion plastic bags and saved approximately 11.7 million barrels of oil. Italy is the first European nation to issue a ban on plastic bags. 25% of the world’s population live in a area where there is a ban or fee. Why does it seem that the US does not approach problems that other countries are? It seems the government is leaving it up to the local communities to change the laws. San Francisco did in 2o07. Washington D.C. has a 5 cent fee.
I do not have all the answers. But I do have choices. I do have remorse in my heart for what I am doing to this earth. I do not want to live the Throwaway Lifestyle, full of convenience and fast choices. I want to live the Conscious Lifestyle. My heart is to challenge others to look at the facts, and examine their own lifestyle choices. To take one step at a time towards a sustainable and conscious life.
- Reusable Shopping Bags: Making the Switch (everydayhealth.com)