HARRIS: Chewing on plastic freedoms : California

Posted on April 30, 2012 by DrRossH in Plastic Limiting Regulations

HARRIS: Chewing on plastic freedoms : North County Times – Californian.

This article by Rusty Harris is typical of the reply a number of people feel when a bag on plastic waste items of convenience is imposed.  It is very short sighted and self fish thinking.  Why would we say that?

1) We know plastic bags are the most common item in a landfill,  (plastic disposable diapers are the third!)  In a landfill, organics are meant to break down.  But when encased in a plastic bag, its contents are insulated from the surroundings, impeding the process.  Almost every one puts their trash in a small plastic bag (ex grocery store, so it is not hard to image what damages this is doing to the landfill working properly.

2) Plastic bags are very unsightly in the environment or on land.  Yes you may not have as many hanging on trees and in rivers and oceans as in a third world country, but they are still there.  The more their use is restricted and people use reusable cloth bags, the better off the planet will be.  As leaders for the world, the west should be setting the standard.   Usage bans will gain momentum and spread.  Hopefully to places like the Philippines where there are so many plastic bags loose in the environment, they block drains cause flooding in high rainfalls and flood people’s houses and wash away roads.  Your liberal right is not as big as people losing their houses and governments having to renew infrastructure at the tax payer’s expense.  Yes you are not seeing that in your town, but you have to think bigger than this and consider the whole problem.

3) People say “I reuse the grocery store bags for my bin liners therefore it is ok.”   Well actually, no it is not.  If a bag is reused for a bin liner for another few days then it is dumped all it means is instead of serving the 30 mins use that got them from the grocery store to home, it now has a life of 3 days.  That bag will still last 100’s of years, so 30 mins or 3 days is still insignificant in either case.  Plus you are disposing many items more small bags to the landfill as opposed to few larger bags and that is worse too.   What we should be doing is using reusable cloth bags at the stores and using landfill-biodegradable trash bags at home.  These are plastic bags that will naturally biodegrade when disposed to a landfill.  Yes you have to buy them but what do they cost $0.50 ea?  That is a small price to pay to help the landfills operate and protect our environment.

4) Most people do not know much about plastic degradation and get confused and put everything they have hear on the topic in to one statement, which obviously ends up being wrong.   There are degradable plastics and biodegradable plastics.  Degradable plastics degrade by a chemical reaction.  Degradable plastics, in the air, will fragment down to tiny pieces of plastic.  That is worse for the environment.  When disposed to a landfill where the bulk of them are (over 90% in the USA), they do nothing but sit there like a normal plastic bag. So they have no positive attributes only negative ones.

For biodegradation, that is the breakdown by biological activity.  Compostable is biodegradation in the presence of oxygen in a commercial compost facility.  Though it is fast, (<12 months), there a very few compost facilities around and people have no way to get their waste to them, so they still through their trash to landfills, where it will not biodegrade due to no oxygen and not the 60dec C temps required to allow the biodegradation to work.

Landfill-biodegradation is where plastics are made with an additive added that allows landfill microorganisms to digest the plastic.  No special temperatures required.  They work aerobically and anaerobically.  If biodegraded anaerobically one of the byproducts is methane which can be captured to produce electricity.  Electricity from methane has far less global warming contributions than coal or diesel.  This becomes a win-win situation.

5) People say plastic bags use less oil energy to make that paper bags.   That is just the bag manufacturers trying to justify selling their product.  If we used renewable energy with no carbon emissions, then the argument goes away.  They always try to steer the argument to the manufacturing side because they have absolutely no argument when it comes to the disposal issues of the plastic bag vs paper bags.  Plastic bags last 100’s of years, paper bags last a few months.   That is the main point to keep in mind when looking at this topic.  Plastic bags are not a sustainable product at all.   What right do you have to use a plastic bag because it is convenient for you to carry some groceries home then trash it, when that bag will still be around for your great grandchildren’s great grandchildren.  That is what I mean by selfish, you 5 min needs are more important than the environment to them?

6) It is our liberal right to be able to use whatever we want.   That is such a 1980s comment.  Back then the age of modern manufacturing was just starting and we all thought we had unlimited resources and pollution was a word some nut cases expounded.   But if you consider the situation nowadays, for example we used more plastic in the last 10 years than all of last century. Manufacturers encouraged us into the age of convenience, with plastic bags, plastic bottles, cutlery, plates, cups, straws, food containers and more.  Now we are finding out this is coming back to bite us.  Plastic pollution is everywhere, in your street, in your parks, in your rivers and so much is in the ocean it is simply incomprehensible.  Bu out of sight out of mind is how a lot of people live their naive sheltered lives.  .  Plastic waste is an accumulation process.  It does not biodegrade so all the plastic made in past years is adding to this year’s plastic waste and that will then all add to next year’s plastic waste and so on.   You were accepting of the ban on DDT back in the 60s, to control mosquitoes for instance.  Why weren’t your liberal rights trampled on then?  Plastic is no different, if used incorrectly, plastic is a very damaging product and so its use should be restricted  or limited for the benefit of all of us including the worlds wildlife.