People of a certain age will remember Iron Eyes Cody, dressed in Native American garb who, in 1971, produced the most famous tear shed in a TV advertisement. The ad showed him paddling his canoe on clean, tranquil water. Pulling his boat ashore, he walks to a highway where a passerby throws a bag out a car window. The bag explodes and spills fast food wrappers at his feet. Then we heard a statement that is still true today: “Some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country. And some people don’t.”
That ad was the beginning of the Keep America Beautiful anti-litter campaign.
Great strides have been made since then in corralling litter – through mandatory disposal laws and recycling programs. But, still, we see litter along our highways and waterways. Perhaps the most troubling are plastic bags.
Driving through Marlinton last week, I saw a plastic grocery bag hanging in a tree on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue. It was even more offensive, given the beauty of the colors surrounding it, heralding the emergence of spring.
But it’s not just the one bag on Main Street that is the culprit.
In the 1990s, then Pocahontas County 4-H Extension Agent Tracy Samples wrote a column for The Pocahontas Times titled Clover Chatter.
It made sense then. It makes even more sense now.
“One of my weekly duties as a child was to burn the trash. I liked to burn trash.
“It was fun to watch the milk jugs melt around a tin can or last year’s Christmas catalog go up in smoke. It was also fun to be trusted with a book of matches.
“But, you can’t burn your trash anymore.
“Garbage is now someone’s occupation, not a child’s weekly chore.
“In fact, there are lots of things children don’t have to do anymore.
“Either the old chores don’t exist, or they’re considered to be too dangerous now.
“I asked my dad what they used to do with their trash and he said he never remembered there being any. He said that folks used to just use things over and over again.”
Think about that for a minute.
How did our society go from having little to no trash, to filling dumpsters and landfills, and polluting the oceans with no thought of the long-term effects on the environment and aquatic life?
As the “Keep America Beautiful” ad pointed out, there are people who just don’t care about the natural beauty of our country. But, hopefully, the percentage of those who do care will continue to increase.
Let’s look at plastics.
According to an article in Sustainable Businesses Resources, “every year we use approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil just for producing plastic water bottles. Plastic waste is one of many types of waste that takes too long to decompose. The plastic bags we use in our everyday life take 10 to 1,000 years to decompose, while plastic bottles can take 450 years or more.
Plastic bags are everywhere – in nearly every store.
“Plastic bags are made from ethylene, a gas that is produced as a by-product of oil, gas and coal production. Ethylene is made into polymers (chains of ethylene molecules) called polyethylene. This substance, also known as polyethene or polythene, is made into pellets which are used by plastic manufacturers to produce a range of items, including plastic bags.
“You have probably noticed that there are two types of plastic shopping bags – the lighter, filmy bags you get from supermarkets and other food outlets, and the heavier bags you get from other retail outlets, like clothing stores. The supermarket bags are made from high density polyethylene (HDPE), while the thicker bags are made from low density polyethylene (LDPE). Unlike HDPE, LDPE cannot be recycled.”
The problem is worldwide.
While plastic bags may not be the most high tech application of plastics technology, it is certainly one of the most prevalent. According to Clean Up Australia, Australians use in excess of six billion plastic bags per year. If tied together these bags would form a chain that is long enough to go around the world 37 times.”
That’s frightening, but consider what is happening in the U.S.
According to biologicalad versity.org, “Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture. It only takes about 14 plastic bags for the equivalent of the gas required to drive a car one mile. The average American family takes home nearly 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.”
So, what can you do?
Well, first, you can get a collection of reusable grocery bags – even net bags for produce, so you don’t have to use the plastic in the produce section of the store.
Nearly every store sells reusable bags for about $1, and some businesses offer them for free.
Not only do these bags hold a lot more than their plastic counterparts, they are much easier to carry and they don’t clutter up your home.
Several people have said they have reusable bags, but they forget to put them in their car.
That’s easily remedied.
Fold the bags and put them all into one. Set it by the door and take it to the car on your next trip out of the house.
You will be amazed at how convenient these bags are, and how quickly you will become offended by the use of plastic bags.
While we’re on the subject of changing our ways – why not get a reusable water bottle and quite lugging home heavy cases of bottled water. And, why not take reusable plastic containers to restaurants for your leftovers? Reusable plastic containers are easier to transport and will keep your leftovers fresher, and you won’t have to dispose of those bulky styrofoam containers.
The employees at Pocahontas IGA say they have noticed an increase in the number of customers bringing their own bags to the store.
IGA also offers paper bags as an alternative to plastic. Just ask for them.
I can’t let an opportunity go by without recommending, what I believe to be, an informative and “habit changing” book.
If you want to go a bit further in improving your health, your way of life, while reducing dependance on fossil fuel, I suggest you read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.”
It’s the story of the Kingsolver family’s journey from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves or learn to live without it – and there are no plastic grocery bags.
Why not make some changes for the better?
Let’s try to wipe away Iron Eyes Cody’s tear.