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Mother Earth Strangled by Plastic
Earth Day, April 22, is a good time to reconsider damaging and wasteful packaging
Michael Werbowski (minou)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-22 15:14 (KST)   
Mother Earth is suffocating. No I don't just mean by smog. She's also being slowly strangled by the proverbial plastic bag. As Earth Day is coming up on April 22 let's do a worldwide round up of the status of plastic bags.

Yes, those ever present symbols of "conspicuous consumption." We have all seen them fluttering innocently in the wind, or rolling down alleyways.

We have noticed the bags hooked to branches, billowing from a majestic tree in a city park, piled in a ravine next to a country road, or filling the kitchen pantry to bursting point.

In the city, we eco-friendly consumers (including me) have all received dismayed mute stares from shopkeepers when we refuse plastic bags.

Refusing to put a newspaper or a one-item purchase in plastic until recently was considered almost a heresy.

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As time passed and plastic bags became omnipresent, things changed; but that's the tip of the iceberg to this story.

Most of the plastic debris goes into giant landfills which surround major agglomerations.

The chemical compounds which make up the bags may take over a century to decompose. They add to flooding by clogging drains and they suffocate sea creatures such as turtles and manatees.

These polypropane-Earth-stranglers are a constant blight on the urban landscape: collecting in drains, obstructing sewage filters, and acting as an additional hazard during flash floods.

Along with plastic bottles, such waste washes ashore polluting pristine coral reefs and indiscriminately sullying nature셲 most magnificent splendors.

There is "good news" on the horizon however. Plastic bags are, as we know, a derivative from oil or petroleum based products.

As the markets dictate, when oil goes up so does the cost of making plastic bags. Eventually supermarkets will no longer be able to give them out for free.

No more free plastic bags!

As oil prices keep rising, plastic bag manufacturers will be forced to charge customers and by extension shoppers for this convenient waste generating item.

According to the report "Californians against Waste," the U.S. uses 4.3 million tons of plastic bags and wrappers per year, and this amounts to the equivalent of 48 million barrels of oil.

For its part U.N.E.P has out-rightly stated that plastic bags should be banned world wide.

Heeding these admonitions Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and South Africa have imposed taxes on the sales of such bags as a means of deterring over usage.

Others still beholden to the plastic industry and their corporate lobbies in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, or France are dragging their feet on the issue and seem reluctant to adopt similar measures.

Bangladesh, Taiwan and some states in India, such as Goa, have even banned the bags all together to the deep dismay of plastics manufacturers.

Concrete steps to curb plastic bag usage are catching on around the planet. In Hong Kong, China, April 15 was "No plastic bag day."

This meant that 80 percent of the city's residents carried reusable bags with them or donated the amount of 6 US cents to local charities for each extra bag they used while grocery shopping.

Xinhua reported on a scheme to limit plastic bags in Hong Kong. A major supermarket in tandem with local authorities announced plans to reduce the distribution of plastic shopping or carrier bags to their clients. This is a small yet very significant step on the way to a totally plastic-bag-free environment.

Additionally, the local government is considering limiting the amount of plastic bags by 90 million and perhaps even imposing a levy on bags like the one in Ireland and other parts of Europe.

In the U.K., a Welsh parliamentary opposition minister has proposed a levy of 1p, taking the cue from Ireland to deter or gradually wean shoppers and supermarkets off their plastics binge.

This levy "would be beneficial in getting supermarkets, a major culprit in pumping out vast numbers of plastic carrier bags daily in Wales to be more reasonable in their actions."

Canvas Bags Instead of Plastic or Paper

In Austria and Germany shoppers carry canvas bags which are reusable sturdy and even more pleasing to the eye. It's more than just trendy and hip, it's a "way of life" for ecologically-minded shoppers.

By contrast, in the U.S. alone, one hundred billion one time usage plastic bags are thrown away, or disposed of into landfills.

In an effort to introduce more reusable canvas bags some San Francisco bookstores and dealers are handing out canvas tote bags for free when customers make a major purchase. This is another small step to help out our haggard-looking Mother Earth. Many more are likely to follow.
If you have any suggestions on Earth Day (April 22) to make our planet more inhabitable then please share them with us in the comments section below.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Michael Werbowski

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