The first few moments are pure magic. From across the room you spy her – her intoxicating scent beckons, gently rousting you from your early morning commuter coma. She’s journeyed halfway across the world to greet you, battling impossible odds. She is percolated perfection, in a virgin white…bleached paper cup.
The honeymoon stage is blissful. With each sip, your pulse quickens, your mind sharpens, and the day seems less daunting with her by your side. But alas, her beauty fades as her contents dwindle. Drained of her last precious drops, her purpose thus served, you toss her unceremoniously – without so much as a backwards glance – to meet her fetid fate.
What next befalls our jilted lover is a tragic tale shared daily by billions of other disposables – cups, plastic bags, and to-go containers – used for moments before their inevitable exile to the landfill. And only the lucky ones ever reach this rancid resting place — countless others become lowly litter, seeking ecological revenge by clogging our waterways, polluting our communities, choking untold millions of marine creatures, and quite possibly wreaking havoc on our entire food chain.
The pattern has become clear: we’re turning into packaging rats. It’s virtually impossible for us to get through a single day without eating, drinking, touching, or in any way using something not encased in plastic, disposable packaging.
And the planet is beginning to feel the pain of it all. To wit:
• Plastics: Show me a square mile of ocean and I’ll show you 46,000 pieces of plastic (estimated average);
• The Death Toll: Over 100,000 marine animals die every year from plastic entanglement;
• Shopping Bag Frenzy: The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually, requiring an estimated 12 million barrels of oil. Less than 5 percent are recycled.
Bagging the Bag: At sea and on land, the disposables we so callously chuck have become an ecological scourge of epic proportions. Numerous countries have begun taking serious measures, taxing or banning the most ubiquitous offender: the PLASTIC BAG. In 2001, Ireland became the first to slap a 15-cent sin tax on all plastic bags, with extraordinary results: within a year, bag consumption plummeted by 90 percent, and the fee generated $9.6 million in revenue, used to fund environmental initiatives.
Other countries to propose or adopt legislation: South Africa (where plastic bags’ prevalence have earned them the title “national flag”), Australia (here, the “national flower”), India (“white pollution”), Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Denmark, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
And finally, the trend is beginning to hit closer to home…
Last November, San Francisco sparked the debate by proposing a 17-cent fee at the checkout stand for plastic bags. The seemingly odd number roughly amounts to the municipal costs per bag for collection and disposal of wayward waste. And Los Angeles, under EPA orders to clean up its rivers, may consider similar legislation.
Santa Monica is on the Cutting Edge: Right here in Santa Monica, a group of environmental organizations and concerned citizens have formed a statewide advocacy network called CAPP, the Campaign Against the Plastic Plague. CAPP’s Santa Monica chapter has begun discussing options for approaching our City Council to address the issue locally (www.earthresource.org). Additionally, the City of Santa Monica’s model Sustainable City Plan outlines comprehensive solid waste diversion goals, well worth perusing to learn how truly cutting edge our city is: http://santa-monica.org/epd/scp/.
We need not, however, wait for legislation to hit; there are simple measures we can take to prevent discards from ending up as fish fodder: BRING YOUR OWN. Stop having cheap flings with dangerous disposables, and develop lasting relationships with reusables. Spend some quality time with a travel mug at The Coffee Bean, romance a tote bag at Trader Joe’s, explore some new taco stands with a reusable fork and cloth napkin – tried and true techniques to spice up our routine errand lives.
To call these “simple measures” is perhaps overstating the case; changing behavior patterns can be a slow, arduous process. But change we must, before the wreckages of our wasteful habits inflict irreversible harm upon us, our loved ones, and the planet that sustains us.
For more information, visit: www.bringyourown.orgEd. Note: With this column, Anna Cummins joins the roster of Mirror contributing writers. Henceforth, for every three In His Opinion columns by Paul Cummins, there will be one In Her Opinion column by his daughter, Anna Cummins.