Friday, August 23, 2013

The Passion of Plastic

I recently had an interesting discussion on the parallels between the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate and whether or not stores should charge for plastic bags. 

I kid you not. While the subject matter is definitively different, the passions behind it are not. I won’t go into the whys and whynots of the first debate—it is fairly obvious why there are extreme emotions. No, I will stick with the mystery of plastic.

I work part-time, as I’ve written before, in a building supply store. We charge five cents for over-the-counter bags. Now, I must admit, some people are fairly benign about this weighty payment. Others actively support it and a few, to my great appreciation, bring their own bag. But then there are those who feel, quite passionately, that I am stomping on their rights by charging for this service.

Here are a few dialogues to prove my point:

Me: Would you like a bag today, Sir/Ma’am?
Customer: (Sneering) Not if you are going to charge me for it.

Me:  Are you okay without a bag? (Reverse psychology usually works, especially when the items are easily carried out by hand).
Customer: (Incredulous) And HOW do you expect me to carry these things out to my car?
Me: Well, you may have brought your own bag…
Customer: No actual response except grumbled inanities and barely muffled insults. This is followed by an irritated grab for the items and an aggressive walk out the store.

Me: Would you like a five cent bag today?
Customer: (Arrogantly) I spend thousands of dollars here every year and YOU are going to charge me for a bag?
Me: Well, we are just trying to encourage people to bring their own.
Customer: Well, you just lost my business.


Customer: Just another example of businesses trying to make a profit off the backs of customers.
Me: Truly, sir, I don’t think so. Because if that is the way they are going about it, they should really go back to business school.


Customer: It’s the principal of it.
Me: (Silently… I haven’t quite got up the nerve to say this out loud). And your principal would be it is okay to continue polluting the earth with more plastic? My children’s children thank you.

Once when I conversationally said: It’s just that we have too much plastic garbage in this world. The customer said with open hostility: Don’t force your opinions on me.

But my all-time favourite response was when a customer demanded to see a manager. After a long dawn out one-sided argument the customer concluded with: 

I’ll show you, I’ll bring my own bag next time.
Uh huh.

So here are several facts about plastic pollution that we don’t necessarily witness in our daily life but I feel we really need to know. (Uhhh, excuse me if I just forced my opinion on you.)

  • “When you wash fleece jackets, polypro running shirts and other synthetic fabrics … miniscule threads of plastic seep through filters and escape into the environment. Marine microplastics can penetrate the cells of even the tiniest organisms, raising all sorts of health concerns for both sea creatures and the people that eat them.”  Read more 

  • Plastic doesn’t biodegrade like organic matter. Although it does break down with photodegradation into smaller piece it still remains a polymer, i.e. a sythentic molecule. This polymer is small enough to be ingested by neustons, the tiny organisms that live on the surface or just below the water’s surface. Fish eat these neustons; we eat fish. Read more.

  • Alongside of the obvious issues of fish eating non-nutrient based substances, plastics contain chemicals that can be mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol.  Thus, eating plastic can cause hormone disruption in fish… and, presumably, those of us that eat fish. Read more.

And from CBC:  

  • Previous studies on the issue of plastic garbage in the ocean may have seriously underestimated the amount of minute plastic particles because they didn’t account for the effect of strong winds that can drive plastic below the ocean’s surface.
  • Plastic fragments sponge up potentially harmful chemicals circulating in the ocean.
  • Plastic particles can carry bacteria and algae to new regions of the oceans where they could become invasive
  • Plastics have entangled birds and turned up in the bellies of fish. A paper cited by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says as many as 100,000 marine mammals could die trash-related deaths each year.

And I haven’t even begun talking about nurdles.
So, while we all know it’s great to recycle the key is to reduce. Let's take our own bags to the store: food, drug, clothing or building supply. Our children’s children will thank us.

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