5 reasons Denver’s proposed plastic bag fee has potential

According to a report on CBS-Denver, “Denver City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega has proposed a five-cent fee for every disposable bag used at grocery and convenience stores in the city limits.”  Under the current proposal 60% of this fee would go to the city while 40% would go to vendors.  The estimates of combined generated revenues according to CBS-Denver is in excess of 6  million of dollars!  While many will consider 2 million dollars in handling fees an excessive cost, and a potential ‘tax on the poor’; I would like to propose that there are at minimum five reasons why ‘Plastic user fees’ are of value.

1.  Plastic pollution is a real and present danger to our environment.  Researchers at the 5 Gyres Institute have found significant evidence that plastic pollution is a global issue polluting the natural homes off both land, sea and air animals around the globe.  In a lab project for 7th to 12th graders indicates that some bird colonies have as much as 80% of their populations that have consumed plastic in their diet.

2. User fees are proven to change consumption patterns. According to an interview by NPR’s Michel Martin, Michael Bolinder of Anacostia Riverkeeper indicates that plastic bag consumption went from over 22 million bags on a monthly basis to about 3 million.  Community governments around the country are seeing the reduction of single use plastic as additional fees encourage citizens to modify consumption patterns and incorporate more conservation minded practices into their daily lives.

3. Single Use plastic bags have low plastic recycling demand.  Consider that while many grocery and chain retail locations provide recycling collection of single use bags, curbside recycling does not.  Because the plastic density and composition of these bags there is little demand for this grade of plastic.  This limited demand means little to no profit margin, and can actually be a financial burden to waste management which is why these plastics are restricted from community recycling programs.

4. Plastic does not decompose.  Instead it behaves like rock in that it breaks down into smaller portions of itself.  Plastic is made through a chemical manufacturing process called polymerization, and is designed to be a lightweight alternative for manufacturing, storage and transportation costs.  Unfortunately, the only way to convert plastic back to natural materials is to reverse manufacture them via a process called depolymerization.  Studies by the 5 Gyres  Institue show how plastics of all sizes are contaminating oceans and beaches around the planet as well as all five great lakes.

5. Plastic is made up of oil, a primary source of single use consumption on the planet.  A report by Friends of the Earth states, “Humans today extract and use around 50% more natural resources than only 30 years ago, at about 60 billion tonnes of raw materials a year”.  This includes increasing levels of oil consumption globally that has pushed for the expansion of environmentally dangerous sources of gas and oil collection like Bitumen Tar Sands and Hydraulic Fracturing.

So while the current proposal before Denver’s City Council may not be the version that gets a final vote, I hope that you will agree that the prospect of such an action is a timely and responsible course in environmental responsibility.  If you are not already in the habit of bringing reusable shopping bags, your family and friends may  thank you, plus think of all the money you will be saving once the fee’s begin!

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What is your food policy?

When you go to the grocery store, how much effort to you put into thinking about what the food policy of your household is?   It’s an interesting question that has been pushing me around the web lately.

I grew up in Wisconsin and quite honestly, I remember having a garden all my childhood.  I worked in the gardens, spending summers weeding plants, composting and of course harvesting the ‘vegetables’ of my labor.  I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I’ve had the pleasure of spending time on a couple – harvesting hay and milking cows were the two things I enjoyed the most.

In addition, my grandparents would often take me out to find asparagus and walnuts.  In the kitchens of family members, and at home, preparing meals with naturally grown foods was a common occurrence.  At the same time, I remember growing up listening to local farm reports and highly respected media personalities talk about Roundup Ready crops.

Through some secondary education and into the career world I didn’t consider my diet much, consuming pizza and mass produced and big farm manufactured foods.  Based on my consistency of food consumption and employment my weight, mental state and overall health has fluctuated greatly.  Over the years I have seen how processed and prepackaged food have enhanced the levels of illnesses in others.   Avoiding soda and high sugar processed items, as well as my personal battle to prevent the purchase of plastics in my daily life has helped me to eat fairly responsibly.  I don’t by any means eat organic and it’s difficult to eat 100% fresh.  Especially on a budget.

Then I learned about Genetically Modified Foods also known as GMO’s.  I learned how, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications,  roughly 90% of core crops: Sugar Beets, Soybeans, Corn and Cotton are grown with gmo seeds.   Modified seeds can’t be that bad, can they?  It’s a question I asked and did lot’s of research on.  Recently I saw a picture, it made things very clear to me, showing how GMO corn is: Corn +DNA from soil bacteria + genes from e.coli plus more bacteria that causes tumors in plants.

So, now I have a food policy.  In every circumstance possible I buy local.  I am trying to avoid shopping for processed foods, go to farmers markets and am doing my best to buy free range animals.  When in doubt, I am using a smartphone app call Buycott.  This app allows me to scan the bar codes of products and it tells me if I am about to purchase an item that is conflict with my core values.   In addition I am watching movies like Food Fight ( you need a HULU account), following entities like The Organic Consumers Association and watching feeds on Facebook from groups in my community like March Against Monsanto- Denver and GMO Free USA the parent group of many GMO free state entities.

All of this takes work, time and effort.  In addition to changing my shopping habits, I’m contributing time in my community focusing on educating others about what I have learned.  In addition I’m pushing for legislation that requires Food Labeling on all things containing any GMO products.

For me, it’s worth the quality of life, and the knowledge that I am not killing myself in the process of enjoying life.  Do you think being educated and making the kind of changes I am is worth it?

 

No really, recycling isn’t good enough – it’s time to recognize the impact of over consumption

Yes that’s right, I said it.  If you recycle your plastic you are doing a good thing, but really it’s not enough to make a difference.  According the the EPA, currently  only 8% of plastic is being recycled.  If your plastic doesn’t have a stamp and a number on it, most waste disposal companies don’t want your plastic.  If it’s got moldy food on it, you probably just tossed that plastic into the garbage can, where it will never change form from the oil it was polymerized out of.  Going out to eat?  Did you notice how many items like straws, ramequins, and lids are made of plastic and get thrown into the waste stream on a regular basis?

No, most people who find this post will be forced to admit it –  American’s as a whole do not appear to be attentive to the levels of consumption they participate in.  It’s a hard truth to face because we Americans have been raised by the corporations around us to consume as much as possible with minimal efforts going toward reducing those numbers. This has been a business model for all of time.  Fortunately American’s only need to go back about 100 years to the creation of the National Forest Service to see examples of why a conservation method of consumption and production is necessary.  Without the efforts of the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir; hundred of ranchers, woodsmen, hunters and loggers would have mass consumed the natural resources of our land.  Instead these resources are still being used generations later – all because a conservation methodology was pressed upon them.

Recently a friend of mine posted a comment that essentially indicated that because she participated in recycling processes, mass consumption of plastic bags was acceptable.  I’m here to argue this as a falsehood.  Besides the fact that most plastics are not recycled; the act of consumption equates to the justification for manufactures to continue taking virgin oil and producing virgin plastic as a sustained and profitable practice.  Unfortunately, this practice is not considered sustainable as oil is available on a limited basis, once we run out, there is no more.  We have but one planet to live on.  Ironically, it’s also the one source for all concepts of life as we know it.  With one planet providing us with a limited stream of resources, the concept of limited consumption should be a no brainer.

Unfortunately for our grandchildren, these concepts were not passed effectively from generation to generation.  Remembering lessons from our past allows us to prepare for our future.  Only we don’t have a past where we polluted our oceans and skies while piling ‘single use’ materials all around ourselves.  In fact, the lessons from the greatest generation – about working hard, achieving, thinking outside of the box, tending to the space you are given, giving more than you were given ( just to name a few); well these lessons are falling by the wayside of I want it now and I shouldn’t have to work at it.  But, the most important of these lessons should really be about supply and demand.

If I don’t use or make purchase of plastic, I’m not generating any demand for the product.  However, when you slow your consumption of plastics, a movement is afoot.  If you and I use less oil, participate in ride sharing, public transportation and planning trips to the store; if we can begin to work with others in our community to change the way we think as a group, then we become more than a movement.  Changing your consumption habits is not going to be an easy thing, but when the day comes when birds on remote islands stop dying from plastic ingestion, the day when all plastic is recycled or depolymerized back into natural or refined chemicals then maybe we will be glad that we took time to appreciate the efforts.  If we don’t make these changes, we can’t teach our children by example.  They follow in our footsteps, replicating the behaviors they see at home.  So instead of participating in destructive behaviors toward our planet, consider the positive impact your hard work will benefit those to come in both indirect and direct ways.  Can you think of three ways which changing your consumption will benefit the planet?