The Debate – by Rebecca Mayer

Pity the much-maligned plastic bag, says Marc Gunther in his article In Defense of the Plastic Bag.

Gunther says he is not persuaded that plastic bag bans or taxes makes sense.  His points are, basically:

  • Paper bags are environmentally taxing, and are not a good alternative to plastic.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t as big as we think.  Even more importantly, the distressing amount of plastic in marine debris is made up of many other plastic items.  Since plastic bags are not the only cause of marine pollution, why not use them?
  • Recycling is better than reducing, because we are never going to stop using single-use plastic.

I can’t tell you all the times, in reading this article, that I began mentally spluttering.  But…How can you…Why…How does that…?  My thought process was less than eloquent.

Thank heavens for Stiv J. Wilson, Communications and Policy Director of 5Gyres.org, who wrote a thoughtful and (mostly) respectful reply on the Huffington Post, In Defense of Plastic Bag Bans.

To Wilson, the bottom line is that plastic does not biodegrade.

What’s at issue is this: Plastic does not biodegrade in a meaningful if even comprehensible timeframe. Thus, some portion of it accumulates in the environment. The more we produce, consume, and recycle plastics, the more plastic will come into the world and accumulate in landfills, on land, in rivers, and the sea. Plastics at sea concentrate incredibly dangerous chemicals, fish eat plastic, and we eat fish.It’s really that simple. This is why we care. It sure as hell isn’t for the paycheck.

Don Loepp, the editor of Plastics News responds to the debate, in particular Stiv Wilson’s call for biodegradable products, with the most ludicrous question of all.

But wait — is biodegradability a good thing? We’ve heard from recyclers concerned that increasing use of biodegradable plastics and additives would hurt their business.

I am back to spluttering thoughts.  Statements like these confuse and anger me.

I guess it’s a question of motivation.  If your bottom line is profit, not preserving our natural environment or cutting down on the needless waste that is finding, increasingly, that there is no “far away” place to go, then you are more concerned with the business of recycling than the actual point of recycling.

Thankfully, again, Wilson comes to the rescue.

That plastics bags are 100 percent recyclable isn’t the issue. It’s that by a massive percentage they are not recycled. … Furthermore, why are we investing in a system that has to fabricate bag recycling rates to trend positively, even though the fabricated trend still amounts for next to nothing? What society accepts a 4.3 percent efficacy rate in any system without abandoning it and going back to the drawing board?

And as he closes In Defense of Plastic Bag Bans, Wilson makes me feel better about my incoherent thoughts.  Because he is angry too!

He writes, they might want to quit insulting our intelligence. Environmentalists will come to the table, because we understand how damaging to this Earth plastic bags are...We might not have the money on our side, but we have something that always wins in the end: the truth.

Amen to that.

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About bagitmovie

Bag It is a documentary film following the world wide use of plastic bags, plastic's impact on the environment and human health.
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