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Plastic Bag Ban Puts Collingwood On the Map

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Strypey comments on the homicidal tendancies of the humble plastic shopping bag.

During my trip to Te Wai Pounamu over summer, I was thrilled to see that the town of Collingwood in Golden Bay has declared itself a plastic shopping bag free zone! This was a major step forward for a group of local greenies who call themselves the Bag Ladies.

Some people might think I'm a bit of a softy for getting excited about a small group of women campaigning against disposable shopping bags, but they affect this planet, our the survival of life upon it, in a number of ways.

1) They are made from crude oil, a finite resource. One day this will simply not be possible. Even before then, as oil supplies dwindle, it will stop being seen as a sensible use of an increasingly scarce resource. Reusable bags made of organically-grown hemp (for example) will always be possible, and are a more efficient use of resources.

2) Crude oil must be mined, creating huge toxic messes around mining sites, that take hundreds of thousands of years to disperse - if ever. In contrast, the organic growing of fibre crops - done properly - actually enhances the life-supporting properties of an area.

3) Obviously there is the energy used to mine and transport the raw materials, to manufacture the bags, and to distribute them to retailers. Assuming you shop once a week, using two bags each time, two durable reusable bags avoid the use of 2000 disposable bags over 20 years. Even if 1 reusable bag used the same energy to produce as 1000 disposable bags (which is unlikely for reasons 1 and 2), you're still breaking even in energy use.

4) Once used for taking shopping home, and perhaps reused a few times for other purposes, disposable bags will wear out quickly and must be disposed of. Plastic can take anywhere from 15 to 1000 years to biodegrade in the environment or landfill, releasing a variety of toxins as they do. Burning them also releases a variety of toxins, some of them produced by chemical reactions at low combustion temperatures:
http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/hlthhaz/fs/WoodBrn.htm
http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/chem00/chem00031.htm

Incineration at a high enough temperature in a well-tuned industrial incinerator may eliminate most of these, but this requires more energy to keep the incinerator burning at the correct temperature, and to collect up all the bags and bring them to the incinerator. Such an organizational nightmare can be avoided simply by using reusable bags instead.

5) Plastic, especially in forms that can be blown about by the wind, is a persistent, lethal, pollutant! It kills animals through strangling, ingestion, and toxins released as it decomposes. These toxins also affect human health, some of them known carcinogens, such as the dioxin mentioned in the links above. Windblown plastic collects in the ocean, and there are massive floating islands of it where certain ocean currents meet:
http://www.ktvu.com/news/10312783/detail.html

Imagine my ecstasy then, when I stumbled across a Daily Green article that announced China was banning plastic shopping bags from June 1. Apparently China has been turning 37 million barrels of oil into them every year.

Although making things like plastic out of oil is arguably better than burning it, making disposable things out of plastic isn't much better. Plastic could be made into things which people actually *want* to last hundreds of years, parts for renewable energy systems for example, which would be carbon sinks. Of course, the best way to keep the carbon in oil out of the atmosphere is not to waste energy and make a mess pumping it out of the ground in the first place. You want plastic, grow hemp!

The transition to life without fossil fuel is inevitable, and people who are still living in denial of this obvious fact (or their children) are overdue for shocking wakeup call. It saddens me that some people seem to pick the facts that support their ideology, rather than accepting the theory that fits the available facts - which is the crux of the scientific method.

However, the Bag Ladies demonstrate that a committed group of ordinary people can make a tangible difference. If enough of us can make such small differences in our own lives, homes, neighbourhoods, and societies, they add up. If they reach critical mass, perhaps the biosphere, and even the human race, can survive this century.

Related

http://plasticshoppingbagfree.org.nz/facts-and-figures

http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/china-plastic-bags-47010907

Comments

Re: Plastic Bag Ban Puts Collingwood On the Map

good stuff! go the bag ladies!

Re: Plastic Bag Ban Puts Collingwood On the Map

Yeah isn't it utterly ludacris to make disposable items out of such a dangerous, toxic, long lasting substance as plastic??? argh

Re: Plastic Bag Ban Puts Collingwood On the Map

ah yes, hemp is the panacea for all ills.

capital take note.
we need lots of factories with thousands of workers producing millions of hemp bags everyday.
just like they do in china.
the age of the evil, foul plastic bag will be over.
plastic bag free zones are declared thruout aotearoa.
it's just like the anti-nuke movement all over again!
a brave new world emerges.

thousands upon thousands of hemp plastic bag workers would obviously love to stand in a production line all day & produce the same thing over and over every 45 seconds for 8 hours a day 5 days a week for a pittance while the boss pockets millions off your blood, sweat and tears - all in order to save the planet. how altruistic of them!

wahaay, why not have giant hemp farms while we're at it. get some cheap labour in from the pacific to cut down the hemp and process it. capitalism will save the day again! it's hip hemp capitalism! Nandor take note.

you might even call your factories co-ops, but co-ops are just the same old capitalist shit dressed up in

why not just get a few hundred workers to produce thousands and thousands of hemp bags everyday?

you hippy.
so Daniel do you propose to form workers coops

Re: Plastic Bag Ban Puts Collingwood On the Map

radical crafting ladies will save this planet!

Re: Plastic Bag Ban Puts Collingwood On the Map

there is also the green teens, high school girls, who are quite active in doing work around the top of the south as well.

hemp farming....sounds good in theory. we grew a shit load of it. but we had no processing machines and tractors had to be modified etc to harvest. although philosophically i liked this more, you fucking try harvesting hemp in the sun with even one small paddock.
people who post the sort of crap that was posted about hemp should get out there and try growing it. or mybe just trying to do something positive. those in power don't give a fuck about your criticisms, they are too busy destroying the world.

Re: Plastic Bag Ban Puts Collingwood On the Map

"ah yes, hemp is the panacea for all ills."

Funny, I thought sarcasm was the panacea for all ills. A scornful tone is no substitute for a sound argument. Neither is name calling. Your post doesn't even begin to take into account most of what I wrote but the for the record:

- obviously shopping bags made out of hemp would be designed to be reusable, and are going to be much more durable (not to mention renewable) than those made out of plastic.
- hemp is a fast-growing, durable fibre crop (compare it to pine trees for the amount of paper pulp you can get out of the same area of land in one year), so it's sensible to promote its use.
- hemp has a higher proportion of cellulose than almost any other plant, making it ideal as a substitute for fossil oil in many industrial applications. Maybe you are suggesting we aren't going to have industry as crude oil availability declines? If so, who's the hippy?
- calling factories 'co-ops' doesn't change their capitalist nature, but factories, farms, offices etc that are actually run as co-ops (shared ownership, worker self-management etc) are incompatible with capitalism as I understand the term. Sure, they can exist on the planet at the same time capitalist structures do, but unless you are proposing we disassemble the entire capitalist economy before we start building a post-capitalist one (in which case what are we going to eat while we build the new economy?!?), that's inevitable. Check out Parecon for the theory on this:
http://www.zmag.org/zparecon/parecon.htm
- worker's co-ops seem to be a viable alternative to corporations, check out the film 'The Take' about factory occupations in Argentina for examples. Perhaps also have a look at Cochabamba in Bolivia, where the water supply was taken back from Bechtel Corporation (now a major war criminal) and put under workers control.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochabamba_protests_of_2000