Letter to the Editor: Let’s Ban Single Use Plastic Bags

Los Alamos

The story goes like this: Two women were hiking a rocky trail along a rushing river below a waterfall. Suddenly, over the roar of the falls, they heard a scream for help, and looking to the river, saw a man flailing in the rapids. 

The first woman, a strong swimmer, grabbed a rope from her pack, and throwing one end to her companion, she leapt into the river, carrying the rope to rescue the drowning man. Together, one on the shore and one in the water, the women pulled him to safety, but just as rescued and rescuer clambered onto the sand, they heard another shout, and saw another man tumbling through the rapids..

The second woman took the rope and dashed into the water. The two were barely on the bank when they heard a third screaming. No sooner had he been rescued than a fourth rushed past—then a fifth. 

Just as the second woman was preparing to swim to the rescue for a sixth, the first stood up, tied her end of the rope to a tree and began to stride off up-river. The second, exhausted, gripping the other end of the wet rope in her freezing hand, yelled after her, “Where are you going? You can’t leave! We need  to help here!” 

To that the first called back, “We can rescue everybody who comes over the falls, but our efforts won’t make any difference until we stop whoever is throwing them in.”

The moral? When something is a mess, we should simply quit doing it. We can rescue and pick up and mitigate the damage forever, but not much changes until we stop that damage at the source. When something is harming us, and there is a simple solution, why allow the harm to continue?

Here is a problem we can easily do something about: Single-use disposable plastic shopping bags—the use once and toss. Okay okay, everybody claims to recycle them or use them for garbage or dog-walks, but be honest: how many do you actually use versus how many inhabit that space under your sink to eventually get thrown away or “recycled”? 

And as for recycling, why recycle when you don’t need them in the first place? Humans use one million plastic bags worldwide every minute. Yes, minute. Here in Los Alamos we use 330,000 a month. That’s a lot of bodies over the falls for the future to clean up.

Jenna Jambeck, University of Georgia, in her study published in the Feb. 13, 2015 Science Magazine, calculated eight million metric tons of plastic waste make it to the ocean every year. If almost half is plastic bags, imagine how many bags it takes to equal three million metric tons. Jambeck likens it to lining up five plastic grocery bags—each plastic bag filled
with plastic—on every foot of coastline around the globe.

Why, you shrug, here in Los Alamos, would we care about plastic in the oceans? Because wherever plastic bags float or blow—the ocean, the Rio, Trinity Drive, the branches of the tree in your yard—they don’t go away. They don’t biodegrade; they just degrade into smaller and smaller bits and pervade the entire ecosystem, which includes not only the oceans and its life forms, but our local water, soil and food.

Even when we recycle, many bales of our plastic bags end up in coastal areas where the third-world, so-called recyclers are located. Wherever it is, this plastic is permanent. Remnants of the bag you get today to carry that carton of yogurt home in will be around for your grandkids.

A group of Los Alamos citizens is going to the top of the falls. In March, we will take the issue to the County Council to request the Council join the more than 100 cities, 17 states and 20 nations (2014) to ban this single-use “disposable” shopping bag.

The solution is so simple. Stop them at the source. Ban the single-use-(so-called) disposable plastic shopping bag. Ban them. We don’t want the future exhausting all its time and resources cleaning up our mess.

Sign the petition online here.