Zachary Taylor’s Letter to the Editor, in which he notes the recent article, “10 Things You Can Do to Sustain Arlington” correctly points out that proper recycling is an excellent way to keep the community clean, but “misses a key detail regarding the plastic retail bags shoppers rely on every day to get their groceries home.” That would be correct, and I almost, ALMOST, included that part about recycling plastic bags: “while not generally accepted in the curbside recycling program, plastic film shopping bags continue to be easily recycled through the industry-pioneered store takeback program.”
But I didn’t, because using plastic bags isn’t sustainable, period. Either Taylor missed the point, or I should have made it more clear:
NO BAG, other than the reusable one you already have with you, is sustainable. But, I think Mr. Taylor, who is a lobbyist for the plastics industry, was just doing his job, trying to make plastics production sound like a good idea, plastic bags something we “rely” on, and recycling an easy option.
I did learn a few things in my effort to give Taylor a fair hearing. Bag for bag, plastic bags are better for the environment than paper and even some reusable bags, because producing them takes less of a toll on the environment. It is what you do with the plastic bag after you use it which makes it the less sustainable choice. If consumers did reuse their plastic bags, and did recycle them correctly afterwards, Taylor might be correct. The problem is, they don’t use them repeatedly and they don’t recycle them correctly. They throw them in the trash, or the wrong bin, or use them for dog poop, or take them to the park, where they blow away and end up in waterways. Sea animals mistake them for food, they break down into microplastics, they end up in trees, desolate kites that flap in the wind nearly forever.
Fewer than one percent of plastic bags are recycled, which means there are billions hanging out in oceans and landfills.
The third meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (Plastic Pollution INC-3), will take place this month at UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. On their website, they note, “plastics and the manufacture of them are not safe for human beings and other animals. New research shows that people are inhaling microplastics through the air, consuming them through food and water and even absorbing them through the skin. Microplastics have even been found within our lungs, livers, spleens, and kidneys, and one study recently found microplastics in the placentas of newborn babies.”
Back to my original point: if you can only do ten things to reduce, reuse, refill or refuse in Arlington, trade in that plastic bag for A) no bag B) your reusable bag C) your knapsack D) a box. If you have paid the surcharge for a plastic bag, make sure you keep it and reuse it many times and THEN, only then, take it to the local supermarket bin for recycling plastic bags.
And don’t buy the argument that we are providing thousands of Virginians with jobs by recycling these bags. There are plenty of new jobs being created that offer a more sustainable product than plastic bag production. Of course, that would put Mr. Taylor out of a job, but sustainable industries need lobbyists too.