The Seattle Times recommends that Seattle voters approve Referendum 1. Referendum 1, on the August 18, 2009 Primary ballot would impose a 20 cent fee on both paper and plastic bags sold at large grocery stores, drugstores and convenience stores.
The Seattle Times notes that it is “a wholly avoidable fee on disposable plastic and paper bags” that will “reduce litter, landfill and environmental damage.” You only pay the fee if you don’t use reusable bags. Most stores have been selling reusable bags for one dollar. After 5 uses you don’t pay any additional costs.
The fact is that the throwaway plastic and paper bags people now use are not and never have been free. The website www.reusablebags.com states that the “annual cost to US retailers for plastic bags is estimated at $4 billion. When retailers give away free bags, their costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.”
So it is no wonder that the plastic industry that makes the throwaway plastic bags is freely spending over $1.3 million to try to get Seattle voters to reject the bag fee.
Sure there is some inconvenience in remembering to bring your reusable bags to the grocery store. But we’ve changed our habits before and helped to lead change on the national level.
When Seattle started curbside collection of recyclable, there were people who objected and said it was too much work. A battle at the time also involved plans to build an incinerator to burn garbage and recyclables. A cost benefit analysis showed recycling made more sense and would be less expensive. Recycling and curbside collection won out and over time Seattle residents have made the behavioral changes necessary to comply with separating out recyclables. We have become one of the leaders in recycling nationwide.
The issue with reusable bags also requires social and behavioral changes. Changing our society to a more sustainable one requires action and commitment. Using reusable bags is a small step but there is no away with plastics.
Plastics not degrade but break down into small particles that become contaminants in the ecosystem, particularly the ocean where they disrupt sea life and act as material that toxic chemicals attach to. Small plastic particles with toxic chemicals adhering to them are ingested by zoo plankton and work their way up the food chain. The toxics wind up in seafood we eat. There is no away.
In a post entitled “Plastic in the Plankton” there is this comment:
Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and marine debris expert in Seattle, says one pound of plastic turns into 100,000 small pieces of plastic if left in the ocean. While oil spills get more attention as an environmental threat, he says plastic is a far more serious danger to the ocean’s health. Oil is harmful but eventually biodegrades, while plastic remains forever, he says. Half of beach debris worldwide is plastic and its impact on the food chain is undetermined, Ebbesmeyer says. Not much is known about the effect of plastic consumption on marine life like jellyfish and fish. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it just gets broken into smaller pieces resembling zooplankton. The plastic is eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by fish. In addition to substituting for actual nutrients, plastic also chemically attracts hydrocarbon pollutants found in the ocean like PCBs and DDT. Moore says pollutants accumulate in plastic up to one million times more than in ocean water.
We have a choice of what kind of future we want. Is it continuing a throwaway society with its myriad of problems or making social and cultural changes necessary for the long term health of our planet? Vote to approve Referendum 1 on August 18, 2009.