Folks in Portland are taking the bold step of eliminating plastic sacks, a green step that has lots of environmentalimplications.
First, the key ingredients in making these things are petroleum and naturalgas, certainly things we want to conserve.
Bags can be made from a starch product using corn or potatoes. Again, weare already using corn to make ethanol to supplement gasoline now. There's not much sense in growing items that can otherwise be used for food instead to made for throw-away sacks.
That is actually the big issue with these bags, the throwing away part.Disposal of them is not going well. For one thing, even properly dispatchedthey can stay in the ground for anywhere from 20 to 1,000 years depending onwhat it was made from.
You think it's only a plastic sack. It doesn't take up that much space.In Australia, they did a study of the make up of its landfills. It looks as ifsix billion — that's a "B" — are discarded annually. They estimate that only 10 percentwere being recycled.
If you take six billion last year and add it to six billion this season andrealize they are still in landfills for a minimum of 20 years,pretty soon it adds up to one overstuffed landfill!
So landfill space is a key element. Another factor in how they are beingdisposed of comes up when you ask sailors what is the one item that they seethe most on the worlds oceans. Yep, that would be plastic sacks.
On the way to the seas they float streams and rivers. They are aprincipal problem in storm drains, sewers, drainage ditches and irrigationsystems.
When they do wind up in the sea, there are other issues. It is claimedthat the single most dangerous threat to ocean life is the disposableplastic bag.
They can look similar to jellyfish and be consumed as food, dooming that sealife. Sometimes they wrap around fish and kill them that way. Smaller marineanimals swim into them and suffocate. Larger fish will inhale the things andthat will make victims out of them. Many sea turtles have been foundensnared in the bags.
So the best single way to something about them is to not deal with themin the first place. Tote your items home some other way. Go with areusable, cloth sack or a knapsack. A container that may eventually wearout after multiple usages is still a better choice than the "one and done"disposable bag.
The overall problems incurred don't seem to be worth the tradeoff foran item that is of such limited use. We should all be interested inPortland's progress.