The ban on plastic bags that was approved by the Los Angeles City Council on May 23rd was music to my ears! Even though not everybody is happy with this ban, I know that they will come around eventually.
While plastic might not “seem” to affect us urbanites, it actually has a dramatic impact on our lives.
Plastic is made with oil and many chemical components to give us the desired effect of what we like about plastic. Some of the chemicals to make plastic are BPA, Phthalates, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Because plastic doesn’t react chemically with most other substances, it doesn’t decay. It decomposes into tiny particles, which then are ingested by marine life and humans.
Miriam Goldstein, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego studies the impact of plastic in the oceans and says that the tiny plastic particles in the ocean have now become the host for an insect calledSea-Skaters. These insects lay their eggs on the plastic, which then get swallowed by marine life.
According to a study by Dr. Saido, when plastic gets into our rivers and oceans, that plastic decomposes very fast. During this decomposing process, toxic waste leaks into our waters, namely bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer. These toxins affect marine life and it affects us when we put anything from the oceans onto our dinner plates.
When we ingest plastic it affects our health directly. The toxins in plastic can cause genetic changes, allergies, birth defects and respiratory illnesses.
Plastic also affects the air that we breath.
According to a Berkley study from 1995, the plastics industry contributes 14% of the national total of air emissions. Emissions of contaminated waste water are estimated to be 300-500 gallons a minute per plant. Aside from the plastic plants, plastic emits toxins when exposed to sun or other chemicals. I’m sure you all smelled it when you wiped plastic with a cleaning agent or when you stepped into a store on a warm day that has lots of plastic wares.
All-in-all, no study on plastic has revealed any good news about its relationship to us and the environment. Certainly, plastic has made life more convenient for us all but I think it has also made us lazier in many ways.
While I endorse all the good that plastic has given us, like when we use plastic for medical purposes, single use plastic bags are something that we definitely can do away with.
Heal The Bay board member and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus as well as many environmental groups have been fighting for this single use plastic bag ban for over five years. 26 Neighborhood Councils from around the city passed motions of support for this ban and they were at City Council with the other activist organizations on May 23rd to fight the good fight.
I have been using a canvas bag for shopping since the early 90s, when people thought of me as weird, but over time, their consciousness has changed. And this mind shift will continue as we slowly prepare for the long journey to make the ban an actual reality.
While this motion is a victory, there won’t be any changes in our usual shopping experience until the end of this year. Paul Krekorian writes in his email that “the Council has instructed the City Attorney to begin the process of drafting the ordinance, and the Bureau of Sanitation will conduct a four-month environmental review. That review will be followed by a phase-in period of six months before the plastic bags will actually be banned.”
So we all have plenty of time to either hoard all the plastic bags that we can for a lifetime or to start to adjust and take our own canvas bags to the store. After all, we all can fit a few bags into the trunks of our cars, into our purses, or in our backpacks. The days of having someone put your groceries (that are already in packages of paper or plastic) into a plastic bag are numbered and I hope that this is only one small step toward shifting our collective mindset to get away from plastic whenever we can.
We can’t reverse what we’ve done to the environment but we can teach our children to be more respectful to Mother Earth and to look into the future and imagine what we would like for it to be, even after we are gone.
This article appeared in the on-line magazine for actors The Networker, in June 2012.