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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Moral of the Story

posted by on May 6 at 12:02 PM

From the Washington Post:

Rebecca Hosking’s [was] on a speck of sugar-white beach in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. “All you could smell was death,” Hosking recalled, sitting snugly in a 600-year-old pub in her rainy home town, which has been transformed by her epiphany two years ago on Midway Atoll.

The beach on Midway, 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu, was covered with thousands of dead albatrosses rotting in the tropical sun. In their split-open bellies, the BBC wildlife film producer said, she saw the plastic that had killed them: cigarette lighters, pens, toys, pill bottles, knives and forks, golf balls and toothbrushes.

The waves were a thick stew of dead birds that had eaten bright-colored plastic pollution they thought was food….

Hosking returned to her home town, a village of 1,600 people on the Devon coast in southwestern England, disturbed and restless. She finished her film about ocean pollution and often spent her days in a wet suit snorkeling in the cool British sea.

What she saw disgusted her: plastic bags, thousands of them, from grocery stores and restaurants and every other kind of business, covering the bay floor like leaves on an autumn lawn. Hosking, who had never been a campaigner or an environmental activist, knew she couldn’t fix Midway. But suddenly she felt compelled to do something for Modbury.

In April 2007, several months after returning from the Pacific, she called a meeting at a local art gallery. She invited all 43 local merchants, most of whom she’d known since she was a baby. She tempted them with wine and food, and 37 showed up.

She showed them her film, poured out a handful of Hawaiian sand full of bright-colored bits of plastic pollution, and described the filthy bay floor three miles from their shops. Then she hit them with her plan: Modbury should ban plastic bags….

So last May 1, Modbury became Europe’s first plastic-bag-free town.

Overnight, carrying plastic bags became as socially acceptable as swearing in church. The florist tied bouquets, the baker wrapped bread and the grocery stores sold everything from olives to ice cream in bags and other small containers, all made of cornstarch or paper…. The bags cost about 10 cents each—compared with less than a penny for plastic—a cost that merchants pass along to customers, who have rarely complained.

Via Slog tipper Will.

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Um, the audience didn't seem even a little bit "disturbed, offended, or emotionally hurt". At least not by the skin. The singing, however, was pretty offensive.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | May 6, 2008 12:21 PM

And this bears very little relevance to Seattle's proposed bag tax, which would only apply to a small portion of the bags.

And of course not even Modbury's plan does fuck-all for the plastic that killed those birds. Birds don't eat bags, because they don't look like food. They eat bottlecaps and toy parts and all the other unidentifiable plastic garbage. Seriously, go to any Washington beach and it's COVERED with plastic -- none of it bags.

But, you know, it's the thought that counts, right? Symbolism is the only thing that's important. That's the American Way -- it's the lesson of the Bush Administration. We're all Bushies now.

Posted by Fnarf | May 6, 2008 12:22 PM

I blame the Chinese. (No particular reason; it's just hip to blame the Chinese for everything.)

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | May 6, 2008 12:35 PM

Bags are indeed a threat to some marine life; they resemble jellyfish. The solution is obviously to emblazon bags with "THIS IS NOT A JELLYFISH" warnings, and then to promote seaturtle literacy.

Eliminating bags isn't a perfect solution, as Fnarf explains; and taxing them is even less perfect. But it's a good start, right?

Posted by mattymatt | May 6, 2008 12:43 PM

Re: #1

Oops. That comment was supposed to go with the nekid rugby players.

So sorry.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | May 6, 2008 12:49 PM

(once again remembering to observe National Don't Wake Fnarf From His Wikipedia Unreality Day)

Interesting. I wonder if the bags were being used to obscure the ineffective omnipresent cameras.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 6, 2008 12:58 PM
the grocery stores sold everything from olives to ice cream in bags and other small containers, all made of cornstarch or paper….

Cornstarch? Are we going to replace en masse an everyday product seen as environmentally irresponsible with a food-based version? Yeah, surely that could never cause us any trouble ...

Posted by tsm | May 6, 2008 12:59 PM

But on the whole plastic bag issue...

True, reducing or eliminating grocery bags is a gesture, and it won't solve the pollution problem all by itself.

Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction. It is a recognition that all this packaging isn't merely a waste, it has environmental impacts. If it eventually leads to greater awareness of all manner of plastics and packaging and what it does to the environment, then that's a good thing.

Just like global warming can't be solved solely by forcing everyone to drive Priuses (Prii? Priusi?). It will take a combination of a variety of changes: better milage cars, better public transportation options, more carpooling, denser cities, cleaner manufacturing processes, better energy conservation in construction, etc.

Likewise, eliminating plastic bags is just one component in the overall reduction of plastic waste polution.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | May 6, 2008 1:01 PM

Will, you are the one who relies on Wikipedia, not me. I've actually visited the seaside and counted and photographed the plastic.

Posted by Fnarf | May 6, 2008 1:45 PM

@9 - wow, I thought you didn't have a life ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 6, 2008 2:03 PM

Ooh, good one!

Posted by Fnarf | May 6, 2008 2:08 PM

not only the ocean. nicaragua was covered in plastic bags when i went there.

plastic bags were a new phenomenon, and they don't have garbage pickup.

Posted by max solomon | May 6, 2008 3:07 PM

@10 haha that actually made me laugh out loud -- nicely done, will in seattle.

Posted by twee | May 6, 2008 3:45 PM

The meek may not make it to their inheritance.
I hope humans don't last too much longer on this planet. They really don't deserve it if it's just their trash pile.

Posted by Vince | May 6, 2008 3:53 PM

@14, no one's stopping you from leading the way. Unless, of course, you try to lead from the Aurora Bridge.

Posted by joykiller | May 6, 2008 4:59 PM

I formally challenge Fnarf to go ONE FULL 7 DAY WEEK without acquiring ANY PLASTIC at all.

No plastic food wrappers of any kind, no tchotchkes, no bags, no new pens, no plastic-lined plastic-lidded take-out coffee cups, no plastic bottles ... etc. Nothing Plastic. One Week. Are you up for it?

I challenge you Fnarf. If you do this successfully, I will give you no less than 14 Washington State Quarters handed to you by me, treacle, in full view of the cameras, at the following Slog Happy @ Moe. I will also buy you a Very Strong Drink.

You pick the week. I authorize The Stranger to give you my email address to contact me to set this up.

But I will keep those quarters, Fnarf, because you cannot successfully do this. You cannot go one week without plastic.

Posted by treacle | May 6, 2008 5:13 PM

plastic: the necessary evil. or is it? we would have to rethink our lives entirely to eliminate it. or reformulate it so it's more biodegradable? and stop burning it, as it adds significantly to air pollution (more of a common practice elsewhere in the world). in any case, the ban on plastic bags is a nice start, you snarky bastards.

Posted by ellarosa | May 6, 2008 8:05 PM

What do I have to give you if I lose? I don't think I can do it either, but it might be fun to try.

Posted by Fnarf | May 7, 2008 1:19 AM

I don't think the problem really lies with plastic in and of itself, as much as how we dispose of it. How are toothbrushes and toys getting into the ocean? When I walk past a parking lot where someone has discarded a used Pamper, the answer is pretty evident.

Posted by Johnny | May 7, 2008 5:38 AM

Plastic floats. A lot of places dump their garbage out at sea.

Posted by Fnarf | May 7, 2008 1:50 PM

@18 -- if you lose? You have to stop making anti-good-idea comments in Slog... :) Or simply dedicate your life to the elimination of frivolous plastic waste. :D

Posted by treacle | May 7, 2008 5:59 PM

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