Action on plastic bags in the oceans
Until fifty years ago, the world lived without plastic bags. It can be done.
Most people do not realise what happens to plastic bags in the oceans.
One step to action:
Every supermarket should be offered posters to put near their doors –
These posters tell people what happens to plastic bags in the oceans, and offer alternatives to carry their purchases – like cotton re-usable bags and baskets.
Telling of Alternatives to using plastic bags to put their rubbish and dog poo in.
Telling of Alternatives to putting food scraps in their rubbish bins in plastic bags – like worm farms, compost, and waste packaging.
Using plastic bags again and again, not one-use.
See Dr Jennifer Lavers account of what happens to plastic bags in the creeks and oceans and
Waste no plastic bags
Re-use plastic bags. Keep them in a bigger bag hung on a door, or in your shopping jeep. When you go shopping, put some in your green bag, string-bag, basket or empty grocery box, and re-use them until they are tatty. Then use the tatty bags and empty packaging packets to put your squelchy rubbish in, to put in the rubbish bin what can’t go in the compost. Nobody needs to take home a new plastic bag from the supermarket just for the sake of something to put the rubbish in.
You don’t even need bin-liners, except perhaps a bit of newspaper or cardboard at the bottom.
Plastic bags can also be re-used as pooper-scooper bags, and large pretty bags can be kept for gift-carriers.
And it is amazing how, somehow, plastic bags will breed at home. so you don’t run short.
Reasons against plastic bags
Our billions of plastic bags are about the worst litter after cigarette butts. Plastic bags choke and smother dolphins, penguins, seals, fish, birds, pets and bushland animals.
Plastic bags are made of petrochemicals, increasingly costly. They wreck the environment. Even biodegradable bags can take longer to degrade than the life of the person who chucks them out.
It takes more energy and resources to make paper bags than plastic ones – the solution is to use neither. It is estimated to take 12 million barrels of oil to produce the 100 billion plastic bags used annually in the US alone.
Plastic bags don’t recycle. Anything put inside a plastic bag into your recycling bin will just be chucked away into landfill, plastic bag and all.
What can people do instead of bringing home more plastic bags to put their rubbish in? or buying single-use bin-liners? It depends where you are, especially if you live in a multistorey apartment block, but there are solutions. Sooner rather than later councils and landlords, builders and architects must come up with answers.
But what can you do, wherever you are?
What did people do before plastic bags for their rubbish? Plastic bags made of thin, flexible, blown polyfilm only came in 1977, believe it or not.
In many countries people still throw their rubbish in the street, expecting pigs, birds or sweepers will get rid of it somehow. In places where rubbish is put out in big plastic bags, crows and rats peck, gnaw and multiply. We had hardly any rubbish at all when I was a child, in an Australian city with a Scottish mother. The dustbin was tiny, and the rubbish was wrapped in newspapers that had first been read and then used as kitchen table-cloths or wet-floor mats. Today, if you are able to have a worm-farm or compost bin or pets, or even pot-plants, the only food scraps that really must go out in the trash bin are chicken-bones – and even those can burn into fertiliser in the ashes of my garden-stove.
But if you live in a high rise flat, that does not even have a landing where you can keep a neat little rat-proof worm-farm for friends who like compost, or a rat-proof rubbish chute (very very difficult, because rats eat plastic) there are still other things you can do instead of automatically putting all your kitchen rubbish into plastic bags, hung on a peg or lining a bin. Or worse, putting it down the drains with an insinkerator.
New methods to recycle food waste for useful purposes are developing rapidly. For example, bokashi bins which use fermentation can sit in your kitchen, looking really trendy. The costs of such techniques will keep coming down.
You can look at what sorts of rubbish that you have.
* The only kitchen rubbish that needs wrapping of any sort to keep your rubbish bin clean and unsmelly is the squelchy stuff and bones. But you accumulate enough unrecyclable packaging to put the squelchy stuff into. Waxed cardboard boxes, plastic bags inside cereal boxes and other food packets, the unrecyclable plastic containers, plastic bags that have been re-used so often in shopping that they have become tatty – keep these in a grocery box. As needed, fill these containers with your squelchy rubbish to put in your kitchen bin. All this bin needs is a liner at the bottom, such as the plastic wrapping from a daily newspaper, or tatty cardboard.
IN THE KITCHEN keep your bin for rubbish on the floor or inside a cupboard, the size and shape you need need. If you don’t want to bend, your bin can sit on a box. I like a rectangular bin kept under the table. Just tip in the kitchen rubbish without bagging, except for bones and soggy stuff and bones, which go inside the old packaging. With a worm farm or compost bins of course there is no soggy stuff.
YOUR OUTSIDE WHEELIE BIN needs only a bit of old cardboard or paper, such as copy-paper wrapping at the bottom. The contents of the bin just get tipped into the garbage truck, with no human handling, so plastic wrapping isn’t needed at all..
Your kitchen-rubbish regime soon becomes as easy and automatic a habit as brushing your teeth.
MAKING LESS RUBBISH to go in your bin.
Re-use, recycle, mend, op-shop what you can. Use all the food you buy. Compost what you can for your garden or neighbour’s garden. Make a little worm-farm. Taking out the trash appears to be the major chore for teenagers in American comic-strips. No need here.
WHEN YOU SHOP
Take re-useable string bags, baskets, cardboard grocery boxes (keep boxes in your car) or a shopping jeep. (See the chopping chapter, for a description of the waterproof two-wheeled shopping jeep with a stander foot, that is the most useful and easy to pull or push or let stand.)
MORE THAN ONE USE FOR PLASTIC BAGS.
Re-use clean bags for shopping, storing things in, for carrying anything you like. Wear one as a hat if you are caught in the rain. It is far more creative as a game to find 100 uses for a plastic bag than finding 100 uses for a dead cat or a brick. Or, ‘100 ways to do without plastic bags’
WHERE TO STORE PLASTIC BAGS
You can keep your collection of re-useable multi-use grocery plastic bags in a box, or in your ‘green’ shopping bag, which you hang on a coat-hook or in the kitchen, or inside another large plastic bag on a hook, or in your shopping jeep . You find they will breed. More sensible than squeezing them into a bag, to pull out at the other end looking tatty already.)
Keep bags that have become tatty inside another box or bag, to end their working lives as containers for soggy-squilchy rubbish you can’t use for anything.
LARGE PLASTIC BAGS from clothing and other stores are useful for storage and for gift-bags. The labels can be appropriate for the gift – books in a book bag, surprises in a show bag. You can store large bags flat in a drawer, or inside each other on a hook in a back room, or slip bags over an old mop-pole in a corner. It is easy then to find just the one you want.
(But there is another problem. What about the supermarkets? Checkout staff can work quickly when groceries all go straight into the plastic bags that hang ready in dozens below the till. It can be slower when someone hands over green re-usable bags to be filled. When someone uses no standard bags at all it can take longer still, because goods are handed back to the customer to pack herself in her trolley, box or big shopping bag, while she gets in the way, but at present supermarkets with high volume turnover may want to keep on dispensing plastic bags, to avoid slowing down, even for a second. Yet even this can be solved, for example, by ergonomic improvements, or by computerised checkouts that are on the way.)
The old story runs—For want of a horse-shoe nail the kingdom was lost. Plastic bags are like horse-shoe nails in reverse. Smothered in plastic bags the kingdom was lost.
Save a fish! Save petrochemicals! Save landfill! Save the future! Twenty million Australians could save sixty million plastic bags a week! That’s a lot of saving.
Friends of the Earth say degradable and biodegradable bags are not an environmentally friendly option. Degradable plastic bags usually can’t be recycled with normal plastic bags, and people may think they can put degradable bags into their compost bins, which they can’t. Degradable bags are still made from plastic, continuing to place demands on oil. They contain a metal additive to make them degrade and tend to require sunlight to break down. If biodegradable bags end up in landfill, they eventually produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Paper bags are no better, says Friends of the Earth. They are less easily reused and require more energy and resources to make and transport than plastic alternatives. Bags made from recycled plastics, which are then reused or recycled, are considered by many to be a better option, but recycling points are not yet widely accessible. Far better to use durable bags, string-bags, baskets or boxes when shopping.
Re-uses for plastic mail envelopes and newspaper plastic wrap
Plastic mail envelopes and newspaper plastic wrap have more uses than you realize, if you cut or pull them off so they do not tear, and keep them in a handy flat box for the envelopes and a container for the newspaper wraps.
I use them for keeping my papers sorted, mailing papers and disks, covering food dishes in the frig, and in making flower bouquets.
DOG POOPER-SCOOPERS. It is not only undesirable but in many places illegal for dog droppings to be allowed in public spaces. They can spread diseases and parasites, they get washed into drains to pollute them, and mess up unwary footsteps. They cost councils and water-companies a surprising amount of money.
Plastic bags are useful to take with you as pooper-scoopers for your dog. Tongs or plastic gloves are used to scoop them into the bag. Rather than buy plastic bags specially for this purpose, however biodegradable they may be advertised, re-use the bags that turn up in your home anyway, including the plastic envelopes that come in the mail with magazines and reports.
There are now high-tech products advertised to be able to mechanically scoop poo into bags, or to solidify it with expensive sprays, but none so far are worth the money, or to be frank, the extra effort they really involve.
Sooner rather than later however, more environmentally friendly disposal method will be invented, so that all those tons of dog droppings in every city every year can at least be used as fertilizer in compost (since because dogs are not plant-eaters, their poo is not much good on its own.)