By popular demand, I'm going to write about plastic bags today. OK, one person made the recommendation and that is as popular as I have ever been. Anyway, you can go back and read the comment on yesterday's post, or you can believe what I say here as a sort of preface.
The commenter told of a recent PTA meeting wherein Wal-Mart would be sponsoring a competition to collect plastic bags for recycling. The competition, if I understand correctly, was to see which school can collect the most plastic bags for recycling, and the winning school won some money. One competitive PTA member suggested going through the self check out line and putting each item purchased into an individual bag to increase recycling potential... I believe it was the principle that suggested that strategy.
I would have to say that this is one of the purest works of genius I've ever heard and I could only recommend minor improvements on the principle's strategy. I would suggest that instead of buying things at Wal-Mart and going through the self check out, instead you go to Wal-Mart, you don't buy anything and then you steal a bunch of plastic bags on the way out. Now we are taking plastic bags from the store which surely cost the store something in an effort to win money provided by the store. I wonder if you could steal enough plastic bags to bankrupt Wal-Mart...
Sure there is a little problem in the fact that it is a lot like cheating that we are being a little dishonest in our accumulation of plastic bags. And there may also be some question of the message being sent to the children. OK, no real question, the message is "win at all costs". There are also some overtones of "recycling will save the world!!! Use more so that you can recycle it!!"
I've got some stats that I read somewhere (I don't recall whether or not it was a reliable source) and may have even partially forgotten. Anyway, I heard once that there is only about a 5% reduction in energy when comparing recycling plastic to making it new (aluminum cans, on the other hand, are quite energy efficient to recycle). Then there is the question of what Wal-Mart will do with the plastic bags. There are recycling programs that do their best to take used plastic bags, melt them down and make new plastic products out of them. Like I said earlier, it isn't very efficient and it's a polluting process, but it may be better than simply putting them in the trash. Other plastic bag collection places end up selling the used bags to other groups and they end up in China as an inexpensive fuel to burn. Of course the gases released when plastic bags are burned are quite toxic. And they do circle the globe to cause health problems not only to the Chinese, but to the people and animals of the rest of the world.
Of course I missed the HUGE point on this topic. The idea should be to teach children to be environmentally friendly. If I were on a PTA, this is the point that I would make. Environmentally friendliness is three-fold and in order of importance: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. If you don't use the bags, you don't have to spend the energy to recycle them. A cloth bag really works just as well and you can use it for hundreds of shopping trips. Hypothetically you could reuse bags, although I know that our local grocer will not allow us to because if meat was packed in the bag before, it could cross contaminate and cause health problems. We never buy meat, but we still can't reuse plastic bags. I do, however, use plastic bags on cold, wet days between two layers of socks to keep my feet warm and dry. Recycling isn't a bad thing, but it's a last resort. I will recycle my plastic bags after they develop holes from being worn as foot warmers.
I think in a PTA meeting the point needs to be made that we are trying to teach kids about being environmentally conscious, we're not trying to win a competition. Maybe all the facts should be presented to the children and then ask them what is the best for the earth. If they tell you that the competition isn't the best thing for the planet, you could ask what could be done to help the planet. Hopefully they get to the points of reduce and reuse, but you may even want to suggest that a letter to Wal-Mart articulating the problems with the competition could be a benefit to the earth because it could prevent future competitions that promote people wasting bags. How cool would that be to get an entire elementary school to write letters to Wal-Mart as a sort of protest for a poorly designed competition.