#Plastic Bags again? No! More the problem of plastic in the environment, at large.

After years of teaching geography in classrooms, lecture halls, conferences and in the field, I thought that there was little about our environmental pollution likely to surprise me. Back in March 2011 I wrote “Neglecting the important natural recycling that goes on in all environments and over burdening this natural recycling with non-biodegradable products can lead to unexpected consequences.” So it’s not as if the matter of environmental pollution hasn’t exercised my mind, far from it. Images like these often formed part of my documentation of a place.

Water lillies with plastic water bottle cap, Ubud, Bali.
Plastic debris, Iron Cove, Sydney

Well, how wrong I was.

Last Tuesday night my son invited me to a screening of Bag It, at the Avoca Cinema. Some years ago I developed a learning object called ‘Our rubbish pile: reduce your pile’. There’s a short overview on the ‘A School for Now and The Future’ wiki, so, at first the thought of a 78 minute documentary on plastic bags seemed might be a bit of a yawn.  Afterall I consider myself very well informed about the whole issue of plastics in the environment.

Bag It was not only engaging, but I was presented with both new information and information that I found quite disturbing, despite being a reasonably informed consumer with a commitment to the basic principles of sustainability:

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Enveloped in plastic

I’m for ever looking at the recycling numbers and only accepting plastic packaging that I can recycle, yet so often I’m tricked. Recently when I took delivery of an elliptical trainer, I was dismayed at the volume of polystyrene foam packed around the equipment. It took me weeks to gradually send it all out through regular garbage collections. Where it went I couldn’t bear analysing too deeply. Sometimes I find myself at the supermarket without one of my shopping bags and I accept plastic bags, much against my better judgement. Somehow I don’t think I’m entirely alone in the plastic maze. Bag It doesn’t allow for such laziness and avoidance, it confronts the consumer with the reality of the plastic packaged world that we’ve slowly allowed to envelope us.

Bag It Intro from Suzan Beraza on Vimeo.

Bag It addresses five principle issues:

  1. Bag politics
  2. Single use disposables
  3. Waste + recycling
  4. Ocean health/marine debris
  5. Human health

It also comes with a website that offers educators a wide variety of curriculum resources including links to:

Waste Free Lunches  – a guide to starting waste-free lunch program at your school or place of employment

The Vinyl School – sources of PVC in the school environment.

PVC University – a tool kit for addressing the PVC problem in educational institutions

The Bag It website offers the following advice on:

1. Carry reusable shopping bags

Whether you’re shopping for groceries, clothes or electronics, be sure to bring along the reusable bag(s) of your choice. Keep them in your car so you don’t forget to use them. We recommend the Chico Bag—small enough to fit in your pocket or purse!

2. Give up bottled water

By drinking your water from a glass jar or a reusable bottle, you can help reduce the environmental costs associated with producing bottled water and save money while you’re at it. Unlike bottle water, the quality of your tap water is regularly monitored by your city. Click here to learn more about your local tap water supply.

3. Say no to plastic produce bags

Bagging your produce is generally unnecessary. If you do want a separate bag for produce, cloth options are available. Some alternatives are EcoBagsAcme produce bags or making your own from old t-shirts.

4. Buy from bulk bins

You can find almost all dry foods, as well as some personal care products, from bulk bins. If you can’t find bulk bins in your neighborhood, you can still buy non-perishable goods in large packages, which will decrease the amount of plastic used.

5. Make your own seltzer

When it comes to carbonated drinks, you can avoid high intakes of high fructose corn syrup AND the need for purchasing disposable bottles by making your own seltzer. We recommend adding a splash of juice to your homemade soda to create a delicious bubbly drink. Kids love it!

6. Pack food in reusable containers

Bring reusable containers to restaurants to take home your leftovers. Ask the butcher or deli server at your grocery store to package your food in your reusable container. Use them to pack your lunch, and don’t forget to carry along reusable utensils. We love these containers from LunchBots and Life Without Plastic.

7. Choose milk in returnable glass bottles   (I don’t think we have this option where I live in Australia)

Many communities have local dairies that provide milk in returnable glass bottles rather than plastic or plastic-coated cardboard. All cardboard milk containers are coated inside and out with plastic, not wax. Check out local dairies in your area to see if this is offered, or ask them to start a co-op.

8. Use bar soap and shampoo

Make the change from liquid to bar! Try Lush shampoo barChagrin Valley shampoo barsBurt’s Bees, or J.R. Liggett’s Old Fashioned shampoo bar.

9. Choose lotions and lip-balms in plastic free containers

Organic Essence is packaging its body lotions in compostable cardboard jars and its lip balms in ingenious cardboard tubes that squeeze from the end. There are also lotion bars and lip balms and glosses that come in glass or metal containers. Or you can even make your own products.

10. Make sure your personal care products are phthalate-free 

Phthalates, which are plasticizers, have become standard as additives to scented products because they help fragrances last longer. But research has shown reasons to be concerned about the impact of phthalates on our health . Use this list to find phthalate-free products.

Some of the above 10 options refer to products that are specific to the USA, but there will be Australian alternatives.

Informing ourselves

The Bag It website also offers us a most comprehensive guide to a list of readings:

Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too
by Beth Terry

Paper or Plastic
by Dan Imhoff

Garbage Land
by Elizabeth Royte

by Elizabeth Royte

The Story of Stuff
by Annie Leonard

The World is Blue
by Sylvia Earle

Cradle to Cradle/Rethinking the Way We Make Things
by William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Slow Death by Rubber Duck
by Rick Smith & Bruce Laurie

The Eye of the Albatross
by Carl Safina

Plastic Soup
by Jesse Goossens

Running the Numbers
by Chris Jordan

Get your own copy of the documentary

Bag It is a vital piece of viewing for teachers.  At 78 minutes in length it won’t suit the classroom but, as the website explains, it’s also available on DVD in two shorter versions 45-minutes and 65-minutes on the same disc.  The discs can be purchased by K – 12 schools, community groups and public libraries for $150 US, from New Day Films.

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