Oceans of Opportunity

Plastic bags and reinventing the American dream

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiAmong my most favorite reasons for travelling, particularly outside the US, is taking a deeper look into how things work. Earlier this week, I took a stroll to a local market while in the South of France to pick up some groceries for dinner. With pictures being worth more than a thousand words, and being hungry, it was all too easy to know exactly what we were buying without having to do much translating. Upon checking out, my wife and I stood there for a few split seconds – dumbfounded – waiting for our groceries to be bagged…but it never happened.

And there were no bags for the taking either.

Let’s take a brief look at some plastic bag facts, courtesy www.Reuseit.com:

1. Worldwide plastic bag consumption falls between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags annually. That breaks down to almost 1 million every minute.

2. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion.

3. The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store (in the US anyway).

Simply put – that’s a lot of plastic bags, and a lot of money being quite literally thrown away.

I am as guilty as the rest, and it’s just a flat out bad habit. But being conscious of my ecological footprint so to speak, so I do find this type of information rather interesting, especially in making an observation of how very simply we (Americans) could greatly reduce our plastic bag consumption…just stop making bags. Period.

A few more factoids from Reuseit.com:

1. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated 3,960,000 tons of plastic bags, sack and wraps were produced in 2008. Of those, 3,570,000 tons (90%) were discarded.

2. A U.N. study from 2006 stated that every square mile of the ocean has about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it.

3. The same study also stated that 10% of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean. 70% of which finds its way to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade.

This is just disgusting and disheartening. While efforts to push reusable grocery bags on the American public are growing, we just don’t go for it (again, I am as guilty as any). The extra energy to consciously grab those reusable bags for whatever strange reason just doesn’t come into play with each trip to the grocery store. I bet we’d think twice after a first discovery that the grocery stores no longer offered plastic bags, yes?

So, why not eliminate plastic bags? Of course, the bag manufacturers would be up in arms, we’d be cutting jobs, eliminating a source of taxes for the government, and so on, and so on – more deep rooted failure at the heart of America and the American dream, where big business and politics still run the show, supporting that ‘wants’ are more important than ‘needs’ or just plain being responsible.

Back in France, where $4 billion dollars a year are not spent on throw-away plastic bags, we have litter free streets, few – if any – potholes, clean beaches, fantastically affordable high-end public transportation, two hour lunch breaks, and the list goes on. Clearly (in many cases anyway), monies go where they should go. Not to bigger and better, but to creating an underlying nation wide quality of life with a comfortable status quo for the masses, by which you can coast through if you like, or stand above the rest with just a little bit of determination.

Let’s get serious and do our part people. Our better days ahead will only come by reinventing an American dream and set of ideals from the bottom up…bottom of the reusable bag that is.

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