Playing the Devil’s Advocate

Why do we have to eliminate plastic bags? Isn’t regulation on bag manufacturers enough?

In 2012, a bill in Illinois was vetoed which would have made it impossible to ban plastic bags by amping up the regulations on plastic bag manufacturers.

The bill called for the following:

  1. Requiring bag manufacturers to register with the state by paying a $500 registration fee
  2. Bag manufacturers must develop a plan to recycle plastic bags
  3. At least 75 percent of the state’s population would be required to live within 10 miles of a plastic bag recycling drop-off area by 2014 (That number rises to 80 percent in 2015)

Writers of the bill speculated the percentage of recycled plastic bags would need to increase by 12 percent between 2014 and 2015. If the recycling increase fell short, manufacturers would have had to detail why it was not met.

Why was this bill vetoed? Doesn’t it sound like a great idea?

Wrong.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no harm in banning plastic bags. All the harm is in putting up roadblocks to physically stop creating waste. How is a $500 registration fee going to solve tens of thousands of dollars in damage? There are plenty of recycling centers nearby already, but do people actually visit them? More recycling centers and grand “plans” for recycling aren’t going to do anything. It’s all just for show.  It’s everyone against the small number of plastic bag manufacturers, who just are afraid of losing revenue with no regard for the environment.

If we keep polluting in this way, one day we will be up to our ears in plastic bag waste. We need to stop ignoring the problem and coming up with half-baked solutions. There needs to be a definitive, straight-forward plan and that plan is simple. Stop making plastic bags.

Hypocrisy? A Letter to Kevin

Dear Kevin,

I hate to call you a hypocrite… but I kind of have to. You see, your grocery store prides itself on selling organic, specialty products and supporting local farmers. Your store is also located in Orange Park Acres, an elite horse riding community surrounded by hills, lakes, running trails and even a zoo. With all of this love for  clean food, the environment and animals, how can you use plastic bags?

You see, eliminating plastic bags from Pacific Ranch Market is in-line with what you sell and how you present yourself to your customers. The residents of Orange Park Acres have a love for the outdoors and animals, so it’s not a long shot to assume they would be ashamed of the indecencies to the environment and sea creatures taking place literally in their own backyard.  It is both appropriate and logical for the customers of Pacific Ranch Market to stop using plastic bags.

I believe you could really impact the people in Orange Park Acres by taking a stand against plastic bags and their negative effects on our habitats. This is a public that is interested in the environment and has spent top dollar to live right in the midst of it. Your customers will applaud you for taking a stand and leading Orange County in stopping the incessant use of plastic bags, for good.

Sincerely,

Jennifer

A concerned customer and neighbor

The Global Scope of Plastic Bags

It was Spring of my sophomore year in college and I was studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Never having been to Europe, the Italian lifestyle was a culture shock to my system. The one thing that stuck out in my mind about Florence was not the pizza or wine, but its stance on plastic bags. In Florence and Italy in general, supermarkets charge their customers for plastic bags. Being a California native, I had never even given a second thought about plastic bags up until the first time I visited an Italian grocery store.

From that point on, I looked at plastic bags from a new angle. Everywhere I went, people could be seen toting their reusable bags instead of plastic ones. Thinking about my plastic bag use made me feel guilty about my pantry back home in California – stuffed full of plastic bags wrapped inside of each other. This is something I think all of us can relate to. Everyone I know has at least 20 plastic bags leftover from grocery shopping somewhere in their house. Why did Italy care and why didn’t America?

It was then I decided to do some research and found out that other European countries cared about their plastic bag consumption too.

Countries in Europe with Plastic Bag Regulation Laws:

1. In 2002, Ireland imposed a plastic bag tax, 15 cents per bag, cutting the use of plastic bags by more than 90 percent. The tax generated nearly 10 million euros in one year.

2. In 2007, Modbury became the first town to ban the plastic bag in Britain, where 13 billion plastic bags are given away every year.

3. Taxes on bags in Italy and Belgium has made plastic bag use drop by 94 percent within weeks of its ban in 2002.

4. In Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, plastic bags are only available with a fee.

Plastic Bag Regulation – Worldwide:

1. Mexico City

2. India

3. Burma

4. Bangladesh

5. Rwanda

6. Australia

Banning Plastic Bags from Hollywood to San Francisco

The devil’s advocate will ask:

Why ban plastic bags if no one else is doing it? What’s the point in eliminating them in one store when a person can just as easily get bags from another store?

That’s where the devil’s advocate will be mistaken, because California already has begun the war on plastic bags… right in our own backyard. In Southern California alone, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Long Beach and Pasadena have banned plastic bags at store checkout lines (Los Angeles Times). So Kevin, it really is only a matter of time before it becomes law for Pacific Ranch to ban plastic bags… why not get ahead of the game and become a trailblazer?

“Nearly one third of California’s population of almost 48 million people live in jurisdictions that have passed or are working to pass laws tackling plastic bag waste (Huffington Post).”

On August 31 of this year, a new law was attempted to pass (AB 298), which will ban plastic bags and require the use of paper bags throughout California. While California as a whole still has a little warming up to do, the two most influential regions (Los Angeles and the Bay Area) are on-board.

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, there is a pilot program in the city’s “high trash” areas encouraging residents to recycle plastic bags at participating grocery store locations. West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Long Beach and Pasadena have banned plastic bags at store checkout lines as of July 1, 2011. Paper bags are available at the checkout for a 10 cent fee. The ban goes into effect in larger stores at the end of six months, smaller stores within a year. The ban was met with little resistance.

San Francisco

San Francisco approved California’s first plastic bag ban in 2007. The law prohibits the use of plastic bags in large supermarkets and pharmacies. At present, plastic bags are banned in San Francisco from most retail locations. The ordinance bans plastic bags, charges 10 cents to use a paper one and nothing to bring your own bag. To encourage this law being reinforced, stores get to keep revenue generated from bags. Stores caught violating the ban are charged $500 for each instance.

“These new measures make 1 in 4 Californians plastic bag-free.” – Mayor Villaraigosa.

A Spooky Blog About Decomposition

ImageIn honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday, I wanted to take the time to tackle a scarier post about plastic bags – decomposition. So far Kevin, you’ve learned that plastic bags can take anywhere from 10 – 100 years to decompose completely. I bet you’re wondering though, how do these bags decompose? Where do they go? You’re about to find out.

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According to The Daily Green,

“The most common type of plastic shopping bag is made of polyethylene, a petroleum-derived polymer that microorganisms don’t recognize as food and as such cannot technically “biodegrade.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines biodegradation as “a process by which microbial organisms transform or alter (through metabolic or enzymatic action) the structure of chemicals introduced into the environment.” In “respirometry” tests, whereby experimenters put solid waste in a container with microbe-rich compost and then add air to promote biodegradation, newspapers and banana peels decompose in days or weeks, while plastic shopping bags are not affected.”

What does this all mean? I means that we’re leaving harmful chemicals that never fully decompose in our environment, hoping that the next generation will eventually figure out the mess we gotten ourselves into. If you’re concerned about the garbage we’re leaving behind, a reusable bag is the best option. Even the paper bags you’d charge your customers to purchase, Kevin, decompose in a matter of weeks. So, as you can see, this small change coupled with the complete elimination of plastic bags does make quite a difference.

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The next time you pass out a plastic bag to your customers, think about how long it’ll take for that one bag to decompose. Then remember that once it serves its purpose of transporting goods a few miles, it’ll sit in a dump for hundreds of years, emitting harmful chemicals. Is it really worth it? I don’t think so, and if you care about our environment, you shouldn’t either.

Landfills Filled With Bags

Sometimes, people do throw away their plastic bags. Surprisingly though, that’s not much better than them winding up in the ocean. These plastic bags that do not get recycled and are thrown away into “normal” trash piles end up in landfills, where they take anywhere from 10 – 100 years to decompose.

ImageKevin, if you’re like me, you might use plastic bags from time to time to put other trash inside. Well, I have news for you. The trash inside might decompose properly but not the bag its in. They have the ability to sit forever in a dump unchanged. Plastic bags need to be recycled differently from normal trash. Now, imagine a landfill full of trash. Eventually, over the course of some years, the trash will decompose. What’s left, you might ask? Thousands and thousands of plastic bags. Multiply all the plastic bags in your home by everyone on your street, neighboring streets, entire communities, the city you live in and then the county and that equates to millions of bags right in your own backyard.

To put things into perspective, Los Angeles consumes 2.3 billion plastic bags per year (Duboise). Plastic bag litter makes up 25 percent of the litter stream in L.A. and an estimated 12 billion plastic bags are used by Californians each year (Monroe). I see this as a major problem for our landfills, one that is only growing as we add more people to our world.

Getting rid of all those extra plastic bags costs money – money that we give the government in the form of taxes. According to The Huffington Post, it costs $25 million a year to put discarded plastic bags into landfills. That is money that could be better spent on our education system, putting food on tables or even other forms of environmental cleanup.

So Kevin, I’m asking you to stop putting plastic bags into our landfills and costing our taxpayers money by discontinuing plastic bag use at the Pacific Ranch Market. Furthermore, I encourage you to put a plastic bag recycle bin at the front of your store for customers to bring old plastic bags to be recycled.

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Paper vs. Plastic

ImagePhoto Source: Washington Post

When you visit the grocery store, the clerk will ask: Paper or Plastic?

Have you ever taken the time to think that question through, or do you go with your now-routine answer? My routine response has always been plastic, but is this the correct answer for me? According to NBC, it depends on where you live. Since we live in Orange, which is close to the ocean, paper is a more economical answer. Why?

“Plastic bags threaten wildlife along the coasts, so if that’s where you call home, Hershkowitz says the choice should be paper. In the heartland, he says it’s plastic.” – NBC

Plastic bags threaten our coastal life, making up four times the amount of solid waste compared to paper. According to NBC, this amount could fill up the Empire State Building two and a half times and last up to 1,000 years. That’s a lot of pollution for our oceans.

Obviously, paper isn’t that great of a choice either. Every year, it takes 14 million trees to make up the amount of paper bags we use and creates 70 percent more air pollution. I don’t see these numbers as encouraging at all – so what are we supposed to say at the checkout stand?

What we should be encouraging customers to do, Kevin, is bring reusable bags with them to the grocery store. Reminding people why plastic bags are a bad choice will encourage them to think twice. Also, rewarding them for bringing reusable bags isn’t a bad option either. By not supplying plastic bags and charging for paper ones, we’re forcing Pacific Ranch Market customers to think critically about the environment. Hey, they’re already shopping at your store for its organic produce and healthy food options… so that’s encouraging. We already know they care about their bodies, so why not the environment too?

Plastic Bags and Nemo

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Kevin, I happen to know that your son is a big fan of Disney. With this is mind, I’d like you to think of the movie Finding Nemo and all of the characters who live in the ocean in that endearing tale. Now, what kind of role model would you be if your son was to find out that everyday, Nemo and all of his friends’ lives are threatened by the plastic bags in your supermarket? Do you think you’d try to do something then?

Plastic bags that find their way off of the streets and into the ocean harm aquatic life. Fish get caught in bags and find themselves unable to escape. Turtles swim into the bags and suffocate. Whales think they look like yummy jellyfishes and eat them. Needless to say, a whale can’t digest a plastic bag so they get very sick and die. All because of a seemingly harmless plastic bag. This is tragic enough in a singular sense, but how often does this actually happen?

(WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

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According to the Huffington Post, plastic bags are one of the most common form of waste found on beaches.

“Over the last 25 years of the International Coastal Cleanup, 7,825,319 plastic bags have been collected from beaches around the world.”

Now think about all the rogue plastic bags that got past the beach and into the ocean and you get the picture – we’re polluting our oceans and killing wildlife every time we go to the checkout counter. It is saddening that our oceans have become dangerous to the wildlife who live there simply because of our carelessness. They can’t help themselves, so we must.

All it takes is one plastic bag to end the life of Nemo, Dory and all of his friends. Will you help? Stop the use of plastic bags at Pacific Ranch Market and you’ll “so totally rock, dude.”🙂

Did you know? (Courtesy of National Geographic)

  • Plastic bags wrap around living corals, quickly “suffocating” and killing them. (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • Approximately 500 nautical miles off the California coast sits a growing “plastic island,” a gargantuan patch of floating plastic trash held together by currents stretching across the northern Pacific almost as far as Japan. This “plastic island” is made up of about 7 billion pounds of plastic garbage, and measures about twice the size of Texas.
  • Each year, enough trash – most of it plastics – floats down the Los Angeles River to fill the Rose Bowl two stories deep. (Los Angeles Times, “Altered Oceans”)
  • Since water keeps the plastic cool and algae blocks ultraviolet rays, “every little piece of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there somewhere.” (Research Triangle Institute)

Are Plastic Bags the Villain?

“The open plains of the asphalt jungle. Home to many creatures great and small and the popping ground for one of the most clever and illustrious creatures, the plastic bag.” 

The above video will take you on the journey of a plastic bag from conception to the Pacific Ocean. It tells the tale like a National Geographic documentary about a dangerous creature, but should we laugh? Are plastic bags actually the villain in this tale? I believe they are and it is my mission to convince you, Kevin Cariato, of their inherent evil as well. It is my hope that you will take my words seriously and stop setting plastic bags free into the jungle that is Orange. I believe Pacific Ranch Market CAN make a difference.

On average, Pacific Ranch Market gets anywhere between 100-300 customers per day. Let’s assume each walks out with at least 3 bags. That’s about 600 bags on a fairly average day. Meaning 4,200 bags per week. With four weeks in a month that equates to 16,800 bags a month, or 201,600 bags a year. Since its opening day in 1985, Pacific Ranch Market has let loose 5, 443,200 plastic bags into Orange County and its surrounding wildlife and oceans.

To put things into perspective, we need 51,500 plastic bags to fill a football field. In 27 years, Pacific Ranch has managed to fill AT LEAST 105 football fields. So yeah, its safe to say Pacific Ranch CAN, and should, make a difference. How? By replacing all plastic bags inside the store with paper alternatives and encouraging customers to bring reusable bags by charging five cents to use a paper one. Simple as that. It’ll make people think twice about that plastic bag they’re so used to receiving and might even change their bag usage habits permanently.