avoid plastic bags

2008.09.23 (updated : 2023.09.10)

I originally wrote this as advice for my son shortly after he was born. By the time he was five -- as you'll see below -- this was unnecessary.

I've used thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- of plastic bags in the course of my life. Sorry to say it, but I suppose they're all still out there somewhere.

That's the problem with plastic, it just never ends. If you look at the life cycle of a plastic bag, it's essentially this:

Much has been said about the lifestyle of the free plastic bag. How it chokes drainage, encourages mosquitos, strangles and chokes sealife, becomes ingested by almost any animal (to the detriment of that animal). And how they look ugly caught in a windswept tree or fence. And how they are being found with disturbing frequency in places where no humans live (e.g. the 'continent' of floating plastic in the centre of the North Pacific).

But it wasn't until I read the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (originator of the plastic continent concept) that I realized the extent of plastic's reach in the environment. All forms of plastic are immune to biological breakdown. The sun's UV rays weaken the stuff but that only breaks large plastic down into smaller pieces of plastic without any loss in material. There are no microbes that eat plastic and no larger lifeform can consume the stuff (this is why seabird chicks and turtles and whatnot keep dying from consuming the alien substance). Plastic just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, until the whole environment is degraded -- full of tiny plastic particles. According to researchers quoted by Weisman, tiny plastic particles are now more prevalent in the oceans than are plankton.

Six times more prevalent.

So it's important to avoid plastic bags wherever possible. An easy way is to carry a backpack to the supermarket and refuse plastic bags. A backpack is much easier to carry in any case, but it's also endlessly reusable: I have a backpack -- now too battered for everyday use, but still good for hauling stuff -- that's fifteen years old!

Another trick is to refuse the small bags that the convenience stores seem to insist upon even if you're only buying one thing. You don't need them, and the environment certainly won't miss the thing floating about or buried in the soil for the next twenty thousand years.

Shop via delivery. No one includes plastic bags when they deliver goods. Even when it's a handful of smaller things being delivered. They'll send it in reused containers.

Plastic bags are a bad habit, but an easy one to kick.

2017/02 update

So it turns out there are micro-fragments of plastic in the seafood we eat; we now have that stuff in our blood. It's in our blood, and we wonder why we're so sick. I had no idea, but having first read this then followed the link to this short video...

I mean it's not like we don't know how this works. We're screwing up enormously.

2017/04 update

The Boy now refuses to use any more bottled water, and demands that we carry water with us everywhere. The demands first came up at breakfast on Thursday, and by demand I mean he is adamant.

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i agree with your comment it is our responsiblity to stop uses of plastic .because Much has been said about the lifestyle of the free plastic bag. How it chokes drainage, encourages mosquitos, strangles and chokes sealife, becomes ingested by almost any animal (to the detriment of that animal). And how they look ugly caught in a windswept tree or fence. And how they are being found with disturbing frequency in places where no humans live (e.g. the 'continent' of floating plastic in the centre of the North Pacific).

aditya choubey
2014.06.07 23:26:06

Yeah. The sad this is we use a bag for 30 minutes, then it lingers for decades.

-Michael

rand()m quote

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.

—-Henry David Thoreau