Paper? Well ... plastic is handy

December 05, 2007|By KEVIN COWHERD

I am at the supermarket checkout counter with 10 cans of gourmet dog food for the old dog in my house, who only goes first class, when the woman at the register says: "Plastic OK?"

She's asking, of course, if she can put the dog food in one of those blue plastic bags that won't decompose in a million years and might blow into the bay and choke the waterfowl and marine life.

Outside, the wind is blowing like it's the end of the world, and there are blue plastic bags blowing up and down York Road. I'm thinking of how awful they look, in addition to how they litter our landfills, choke our shore life, etc.

In an instant, I make a decision.

"Sure," I tell the woman at the register. "Plastic's fine."

Oh, save all your tsk-tsking and holier-than-thou posturing for somebody else, because it won't work on me.

I'm an old tree-hugger from way back, and I don't want to see the environment ruined by these bags any more than you do, you big phony.

Look, I don't want to see these bags blowing all over town and filling our landfills, and I don't want to see Department of Natural Resources officers giving the Heimlich to blue herons, either.

But I'm also the biggest hypocrite you'll ever see. And the truth is, like a lot of other people, I use these stupid plastic bags for all sorts of things.

I use them to line garbage cans at home, so I can throw coffee grinds in there and they won't drip all over the place.

I use them to bring my lunch to work, so I can bring a cold can of Diet Coke and it won't "sweat" when it gets warm and eat through the bag.

I use them to store our household recyclables - you want bona fides about being a tree-hugger, I'll give you bona fides, my friend.

And I use them to pick up after the dog who only goes first class when we go out for walks, so the neighbors won't freak out and report me to the community association.

Yep, these plastic bags are handy for a lot of things.

And don't waste your breath telling me to switch to paper bags instead of plastic, because paper doesn't work nearly as well for transporting sweating Diet Cokes, and it sure doesn't work for picking up after the dog who only goes first class.

(You would know this if you picked up after your own dog. But, apparently, you don't.)

But here's the thing: If they come out with some new kind of ecologically friendly bag that does all the things plastic does and won't fester in our landfills for a million years and gag our waterfowl, I'd switch in a heartbeat.

You won't have to twist my arm, friend.

But until modern science gets off its duff and creates a better shopping bag - what do these research scientists do when they're not trying to cure cancer or stem world hunger or slow global warming? - I'm hooked on evil plastic.

OK, one more thing on the subject and I promise to shut up, because I'm starting to bore myself as much as I'm boring you.

There was an editorial in this newspaper a few months ago that advocated doing away with both plastic and paper bags altogether.

Paper bags are also a tool of the devil, the editorial said, because it takes more energy to produce and transport them, which causes even more pollution.

The answer, the piece said, was for people to shop with reusable totes.

This was all fine and dandy as far as it went, which wasn't too far.

Look, the issue for millions of people like me isn't what do we use to get the groceries from the supermarket to the car, and from the car to our house.

The issue is: What do we use to line garbage cans and transport sweating Diet Cokes and store recyclables and pick up after an old dog who only goes first class?

We're hooked on petroleum-based plastic, baby.

Polymers, low-density polyethylene - we can't live without them.

That's our dirty little secret, and you can pray for our souls all you want.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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