We’ve pointed out that grocery bags aren’t nearly as important as what goes inside the bag. That’s true from an energy perspective, but it doesn’t account for the ecological harm of plastics. Consider this slightly terrifying article in the Globe and Mail:
…Captain Charles Moore stood at the bow of his 50-foot catamaran and looked toward the horizon. But instead of gliding along calm, sapphire-coloured waters glistening in the afternoon sun, his aluminum-hulled Alguita carved through a sea of shiny, modern-day refuse.
What he discovered at the heart of the deep swirls were miles upon miles of water bottles, plastic tarpaulins, dolls and furniture that have been collecting there for as long as 60 years.
This plastic soup, with billions of tiny shards of the synthetic material floating just below the surface of the water, is estimated to span an area 11/2 times the size of the continental United States.
The United Nations Environment Program says plastic accounts for the deaths of more than a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals every year. Countless fish, it says, die either from mistakenly eating the plastic or from becoming entangled in it and drowning.
It’s useful context, I think, for debates like the one that Seattle is having about whether to levy a 20 cent charge on plastic grocery sacks, and to ban styrofoam food packaging.
Now obviously, it’s not as if the city’s conservation, by itself, will restore the Pacific to ecological health. But needless consumption is, well, needless. And limitless free plastic sacks are truly unnecessary, as pretty much anyone outside of North America can attest. So I get a little weary of the squeals of protestation at even the mildest efforts to make our economy a little lighter on the land.
The more often I see the same vacuous cant about “social engineering” and “nanny states” applied to recycling and conservation, the more I want to get self-righteous. There are consequences to our consumption, and there’s a moral dimension to waste.