My dear mom and auntie have a favourite expression: "What did we do before —?" You fill in the blank, but it almost always has something to do with convenience. Convenience and plastic.
What did we do before plastic wrap? What did we do before plastic containers? Plastic forks, cups, tablecloths?
What did we do before all this plastic that comes from crude oil, gas and coal? (It takes about a quarter litre of oil to produce a one-litre plastic water bottle.)
Right now the local Grocers Alliance, at the behest of council, is partway through its research into what the municipality did before plastic bags. Actually, that's not quite true, because the RMOW isn't nearly as old as my auntie, my mom, or even me, so it has no BPB (Before Plastic Bags) history. And to be honest, the alliance was asked to investigate "reducing single-use plastic bags usage," not eliminating the suckers altogether. So lets all get down on our knees and pray that the alliance — or someone — goes big and comes up with Plan B, or make that Plan BPB.
For one, life BPB was just fine.
The only plastic bags I can remember in our house when I was a kid came in the door protecting the odd coat or two that got dry-cleaned. Those, and a few bread bags.
Groceries and stuff came in paper bags. Garbage cans were not lined with plastic — they were metal containers that got washed when they got stinky.
People used boxes to lug things around — the whole milieu being that there wasn't that much to lug around because shopping wasn't a competitive sport or a substitute for sex. (Don't get me going on that one: scientists have proven that buying stuff releases the same chemicals in the brain that an orgasm does. Go for the sex — it's cheaper.)
"We used to jar our own fruit, we used to bring our reusable bags to the store, we got our milk delivered in glass bottles that were washed and used again. It's amazing how this whole convenience thing has gotten out of control," says Claire Ruddy, president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, which is working to bring in "Whistler" branded reusable bags made from clothing manufacturing waste.
"And we used to be frugal. People used to value a jar, and value their favourite bag, whereas now it's all disposable consumer goods that just get tossed." Into plastic bags.
It was AWARE that first brought a proposal forward to the RMOW to get rid of plastic bags in 2007. That year the Nobel Peace Prize went jointly to Al Gore and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — which new B.C. Green MP Andrew Weaver is part of — for their work on climate change. That year NASA scientist James Hansen offered a simple rule to contain climate change: get carbon in the atmosphere down to 350 ppm (parts per million). Ergo Bill McKibben's 350.org.
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