The ocean contains 5 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing over 260,000 tons, and it seems California has found a lasting solution to humanity’s plastic epidemic: a new and improved “reusable” plastic bag.
Because the answer to less plastic, is more plastic ~ like when you give a drug addict more drugs, a shopping addict more clothes, or a compulsive overeater an all-you-can-eat buffet ~ the same logic applies here.
Or, so it seems ~ despite the passage of Proposition 67, California’s Single-Use Carryout bag ban, plastic bags somehow remain in stores ~ only now they’re thicker, contain more plastic, and even say “reusable” beside all the “thank you have a nice day” nonsense on the side.
Because when the majority vote against your giant plastic corporation, you don’t accept defeat ~ you go to court until you win. This is essentially what happened when California’s initial bag ban passed in 2014, as plastic companies delayed Senate Bill 270 by paying people to petition against it. Plastic-industry-funded front group, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, poured huge sums of money into this ridiculous/mildly amusing campaign, (see attack ad here), pushing through a Referendum that appeared on the 2016 ballot as Prop 67.
When Prop 67 passed, saving California’s statewide ban on single-use carryout bags, the plastic industry still didn’t give up ~ instead, they created “reusable” plastic bags. Thicker, capable of carrying 22 lbs, and designed for reuse, these “new and improved” plastic bags are apparently the answer to our plastic addiction.
Myself, and likely the other 7.2 million voters who said “yes” on Prop 67, are a little unsure about this approach ~ but we’ve been on the hunt for a solution since the discovery of the ocean’s first garbage patch in 2001, and with the discovery of four other trash gyres since then, you’d think 16 years is enough time to brainstorm an intelligent solution.
In search of an answer, I consulted future scientist/genius and member of the upcoming generation, my wise friend Emerson.
A little background on Sir Emerson:
He is 4 years old (but as tall as a 6 year old), loves blue whales, and in his free time, likes to swim, and collects feathers and rocks.
Additionally, he loves the ocean, and is a self-taught expert on whale and dolphin biology.
As soon as his little sister/future filmmaker Islah was done setting up the camera, we got started with the interview.
Here is what Emerson had to say:
What is plastic?
“BAD. It’s bad for the animals… because they can get injured. Their body can’t digest it, and then it injures them.”
Can you tell us about single-use plastic?
“Garbage bags… Let’s say I want to throw this away after I use it [*gasps*]… You only get to use it one time. The only thing you do is throw it away.”
Does plastic in the ocean ever go away?
“Nope! The animals get to eat it.”
Are plastic bags something you feel like people need, or something they could go without?
“Go without. Use something that’s… not plastic.”
What if the plastic bags are thicker and can be re-used a certain number of times?
“Still really bad. Cuz it still ends up in the landfill, and then ends up in the ocean.
After the landfill it ends up in the ocean, and then what if the fish accidentally thought the plastic was seaweed and it eats it? And a whale decides to eat that fish? And then it can’t digest it? And then it goes straight to the fin, and it injures it.”
Do you think it’s important to care about other creatures?
“Yeah. Cuz they could get injured. Or they might die. Like, bugs are really delicate. They could get killed. And that’s bad because they could never come alive again. Cuz we don’t wanna see them killed, we wanna seem them alive. Cuz I like creatures.”
Why do you think people use plastic bags so much?
“Because they don’t know what else to use.”
What would be a better solution?
“Fabric. You can compost them, like in there. See that box, right in there? That’s our compost box. So the worms can eat them and turn them into soil, that’s a good thing.
And [Glass] jars are made of glass. You can use it again again, again, again, again, again until it breaks, and then you get to throw it away. You can recycle glass. Recycling means it gets to turn into other stuff, that’s made of glass.”
On why seeing whales and animals in the ocean makes him feel happy:
“Because they’re playing around like… sticking their fins up out of the ocean. I wanna see them alive, I don’t wanna see them killed.”
Finally, Emerson ended with this bit of sentiment:
“Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Don’t ask if it’s easy. Ask if it’s right.’” Amen.
“Don’t ever use plastic again!” ~ Emerson
(Emerson, posing with his classy reusable bag and glass jar)
As goes in most forms of addiction, giving humanity more plastic will not curb our obsessive desire. Because unlike drugs, clothes, or food, it is not an addiction to a substance, but to a lifestyle ~ a lifestyle of convenience and ease, over opposition and awareness ~ an addiction to disconnecting from the things we use and buy everyday.
Giving us thicker plastic bags not only puts more plastic in our oceans and landfills, but reinforces an embedded culture of mindless devotion to everything comfortable, cheap, and convenient.
Sorry to all the plastic companies and their ridiculous clown campaigns, but I’ll have to side with Emerson on this one. Because while nothing beats hearing that big problems have easy, painless solutions, that’s just not how the world works. And if a 4-year-old entering pre-school has the aptitude to understand that, we all should too.
Here are some ways you can (actually) use less plastic:
- Reusable fabric bags ~ these last quite a long time, and certain materials can be composted (guide here). Found for sale in your local grocery store or online.
- Mesh bags & glass jars ~ Want to stop using plastic bags for produce and bulk food at the grocery store? Use mesh bags (I bought mine here)! Glass jars work well for bulk products ~ I reuse empty peanut butter/food jars, or purchase mason jars. Glass is great ~ it’s fully recyclable… unlike plastic, which is only down-cycled into other products…
- Reusable water bottles ~ Please. We don’t need any more of the giant, plastic-wrapped, plastic water bottle packages… I love my Hydroflask, but if you’re looking for something cheaper, there are many alternatives for under $20 on Amazon/online.
- Metal/glass/silicon food containers ~ Instead of using plastic baggies in your lunch, bring snacks and food in metal, glass, or silicon! I love using glass jars (often old peanut butter/jam jars), glass tupperware, and metal canisters. Search “reusable lunch container” on Amazon, and you will have no shortage of options… seriously, that is what I do for fun.
- Buy in bulk ~ Instead of buying nuts, trail mix, rice, grains, chocolate chips, flour and baking supplies, etc. in plastic packaging, shop in the bulk section and bring your own container~ glass jars, glass containers, silicon bags, get creative.
- Keep tupperware & eating utensils in your car ~ Yes, I actually do this. When I have leftovers after eating out, I whip out my classy tupperware and fork/knife set, and say no to plastic and styrofoam to-go containers.
- Ask for *NO* straw ~ Straws are one of the top ten most common pieces of ocean debris… and they are so, so unnecessary and useless ~ drink your damn drink with your mouth, I promise it’s not that hard. (What is hard, however, is remembering to specifically ask your waiter/waitress for “no straw”… because drinks usually come with one.)
Comment for more plastic-free ideas // share how you go #plasticfree