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Plastic Fantastic?

May 3, 2006

Plastic Bags. Ubiquitous. Dangerous. Menace to the environment. Useful. Light. There is an ambivalence towards these items at best, at worst – well, people want them outlawed. Really it’s not the fault of the bag. It’s not the fault of the polymer. It’s more our attitude to plastic bags and the function that we assign to them. They are treated as this disposable, easily dispensed thing. Want one, have another…no really!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got all manner of natural fibre carry bags that I use for my shopping. I, very proudly, have refused plastic bags for years – some would even say, smugly! I recognize the real threat they pose to wildlife, landfill etc., but what about if we still maintained our vigilance against them but tilted our attitude slightly?

Do this. When you somehow find a plastic bag in your possession (ok you didn’t take the shopping basket/bags to the shop and other shoppers gave you disapproving stares for your apparent lack of environmental concern ) – don’t use it as a rubbish bin liner, USE IT. Then, if need be WASH IT and RE-USE it Seriously, hang it on the line to dry. Let it flap in the breeze and soak up the sun. Use it again and again. It’s still a material resource and shouldn’t be wasted. When you do this, as I did recently, your entire attitude to them changes. I still don’t want a drawer full of them but the ones I do have, I’ve started to wash and re-use. They will fall apart with re-use, but they last for ages….some newer plastic bags are made of corn starch and are meant to be compostable…..I haven’t tried that…I’m on the minimise, use, reuse, wash, reuse scheme. I am not alone on the plastic bag washing, read “Living the Good Life” and check out this family’s web site.

Sure, I know that plastics are problematic. All aren’t totally recyclable, they don’t decompose, they off-gas, can have a xeno-oestrogenic effect – simply, they hang around. Plastics are by-products of our reliance on fossil fuels, chemicals and an attitude that everything is infinite, there is more to be had. Even plastic recycling is less than perfect, with the component materials often preventing higher re-use recycling due to contamination + costs. For example, recycled plastics instead of being used for a higher end use, say like bottles, are made into items like speed bumps/humps and once they wear out they go to landfill. Plastic then is still a landfill problem because we haven’t worked out how to increase the plastic recycling so that it produces input quality materials every time. So you recycle a bottle and it’s made into a bottle over and over again. The book “Cradle to Cradle” is made of a polymer that is designed to be like paper and can be recycled over and over again to produce books. Reading this book began to change my attitude to materials, with me realizing all resources should be used responsibly and sustainably. The writers are world leaders on sustainability.

Plastic is a complex material and we need to change the way we deal with it if it’s not to be the scourge it has become. It will take effort, not unlike gardening……..and yes I prefer a woollen jumper to an acrylic one.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. anaglyph permalink
    May 3, 2006 9:39 am

    It’s long been a case of the attitude being the problem rather than the actual product.

    The fault lies with the retailers and manufacturers promoting the ‘disposable’ attitude that we are now paying for.

    I try to think of plastic bags and other simple wonders of modern life as I would if I was trying to live off the land. Where carrying water is a problem. Where preserving anything for any time is a problem. Where keeping things dry is a problem.

    Can be enlightening!

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