New York Daily Photo Analytics

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

White Christmas

Decorations of white for the holiday season? Hardly. Plastic bags being blown into trees is a serious a problem worldwide. See how extreme it can become in this gallery of photos here. Astounding isn't it?
New York City has more than 500,000 trees - candidates as bag magnets. As Clyde Haberman points out in his New York Times article NYC; In Winter, Trees Bear Plastic Fruit: "In summer, leaves obscure snarled plastic. The leaves are also splendid, parks people say, at repelling the polymerized intruders before they can land." Like chewing gum on the streets, once you start looking for these "plastic fruit", you start to notice them more.
There is a global movement to reduce/eliminate the use of plastic bags - particularly for grocery checkout. The only really effective way to change behavior with issues like this appears to be a financial disincentive. City or country bans or taxes on plastic shopping bags usually involve a tax - unfortunately. In Ireland, a €0.15 levy on plastic shopping bags was instated on March 2, 2002 - there was a subsequent 90% reduction in use of plastic bags. China has banned the use of ultra-thin plastic bags. San Francisco has banned non-compostable bags. Much of Europe has various tax levies or bans. Mayor Bloomberg is proposing a $.06 tax on plastic shopping bags. However, this move is controversial - many see it primarily as a revenue raising scheme disguised as a green effort.
Plastic bags are such a complex issue - any simple assertions concerning their use usually miss some key points. The lists of pros and cons of paper versus plastic are quite long. Paper is not a clear winner - apart from trees, energy is require to produce them, dioxins are released in production and they do not decompose in landfills. Also, many reuse the bags for trash at home or cleaning up after their dog, so reduction of plastic shopping bags may result in an increase in the purchase of plastic garbage bags. The best solution is a reduction in use of bags to begin with.
The reusable shopping bag is a good idea, however in New York City, this is a problem due to the general lack of use of cars for shopping. Carrying reusable shopping bags is not realistic for most residents and unplanned shopping also precludes their use.
I think in the end, a real net reduction of energy and materials will require a wholesale change in behavior and habits regarding bags and trash. In years to come, I hope this is not a new interpretation for Irving Berlin's I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas ...

Photo Note: This tree was on Waverly Place near 6th Avenue. The bag was from Citarella - a gourmet food market. At least our tree trash is first class :)

8 comments:

Therese said...

Love your final comment and shame on plastic bags.

Terry B said...

As a reasonably recent convert to using reusable bags for shopping, I understand that not driving in New York complicates the carrying of them for unplanned shopping. I'm in Chicago, and most of my canvas bags are stored in the trunk of my car when not in use. But I do have a thin, collapsible cloth bag that I stuff in my messenger bag that travels with me when I'm taking public transportation. Also, the French used to have string bags for shopping, long before the whole idea of "green" existed; these would squash down to nothing and could get stuffed in a pocket. These would be perfect for New Yorkers, I think.

Ms. M said...

I have a nylon bag that stuffs into a tiny bag and is attached to my keychain. Even though I switch purses or bags all the time I ALWAYS have that bag with me which is great because I usually never know when I'm going to pop into a bodega to pick something up on the way home. I get my groceries delivered and the come in boxes that were going to be thrown out anyway. I've considerable reduced the accumulation of bags in my apartment. The only thing I can't get past is take out. It gets delivered in a plastic bag and I don't really know how to avoid that.

Brian Dubé said...

Therese - Thanks.

Terry & Ms. M - You already are examples of people who have changed their behavior and habits. Reduction is the best key to this problem. Recycling should be seen as the last resort in the 3 approaches to consumption and waste: reduce, reuse, recycle. Congrats to you.

Anonymous said...

BUT-- I haven't bought a trash bag since I moved to New York 10 years ago. If I didn't have plastic groceries bags for my trash I'd have to buy new plastic bags for that purpose. A conundrum.

Anonymous said...

Plastic bags, the unofficial flag of the City of NY. I especially love them when they get stuck on the underside of your car and slowly melt with their sickening chemical odor.

Anonymous said...

Here in San Francisco we've done just fine with the reusable bags and people seem to be in the habit of bringing them to the stores.

My favorite is a recycled cotton bag that's made in the US from Hero Bags.
http://www.herobags.com they also have wine totes and organic cotton lunch bags

Anonymous said...

Kind of expensive, but it works.

http://www.bagsnaggers.com/index.html