Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Plague of the Urban Tumbleweeds

I came across this article I wanted to share with everyone. Though it pertains to the problem of the use of plastic bags in the San Diego, California area, i think the article itself is very informative and all readers can come away with something of value from it.

I found some of the facts striking:

Plastic bags. Why can’t we eliminate these polluting, addicting, consumer-age indulgences from our lives? Probably because they’re so damned practical, so accommodating. What better overnight-clothes stuffer? Beach towel carrier? Garbage pail liner? Pooper-scooper bag? Californians Against Waste estimate that we use 19 billion plastic grocery bags each year in the state. That’s about 500 each, almost 2 a day.


Put it this way: the average plastic bag has an estimated life of from 20 to 1000 years, depending on the bag and whom you talk to. So if William the Conqueror had buried his dog’s doodoo in a plastic bag after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the bag’d be wasting away just about now. We don’t need to be creating history like that.

A plastic bag’s useful lifespan is, what, 20 or 30 minutes? However long it takes to get from the supermarket to home. Thereafter, it launches into a second career filling our landfills and clogging our streams, storm drains, oceans, fishes’ bellies. And from there, perhaps, to our bellies. How bad is the problem? Green think tanks have had a field day conjuring up original ways to express the horror.

By weight, Californians alone, you read, throw away 294,000,000 pounds of plastic bags every year, or 147,000 tons.

By volume? End to end, enough to circle the planet over 250 times.

By time? Six hundred plastic bags jettisoned every second. Worldwide, around 17,000 per second, a million a minute, more than half a trillion plastic bags per year.

You can take them back to the supermarket, but don’t try putting them out in your recycling bin. Edco or Allied will reject them or send them to the landfill because (a) they’re the lowest-grade plastic and hard to sell at a profit, (b) they gum up the sorting machinery at the recycle centers, and (c) they’re too much trouble. Just leaving a shopping receipt inside one can cause sorting problems, plus it takes huge numbers to make up a nice, heavy, sellable bundle.

Read the full article:

Other resources:

Before becoming involved with Greening Duluth, the problem with plastic bags was just one of the many issues whose gravity i was not aware of. Awareness is key but action must follow. Please pass along the link to the above article to someone who still uses plastic bags.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I’m sitting in the Greenery, writing some text for the introductory page of our website, and being bombarded by the irritating rumble of a delivery truck idling outside the bistro across the street, unable to stop thinking about the toxins it is spewing into the air that I am breathing just a few dozen metres away, and feeling a sense of helplessness to make it stop. Part of me feels I should just walk across the street and ask either the driver or the restaurant manager to ask them to turn off the engine. Part of me feels I should write a letter to my borough councilor inquiring when the city’s anti-idling laws will actually be enforced. Part of me thinks I should wait till I have a serious laundry list of demands before I ask for my councilor’s busy time. And part of me wants to just go stick a banana in the muffler. I’m certain I’m not alone in being uncertain of which strategy to employ in simply protecting my health and reducing the level of stress in my life. I’m certain I can find a dozen studies online about the impacts of noise and engine idling on mental and physical health. And I’m certain that there will be some sort of resistance to whichever method I choose. However, I’m also certain that if I don’t do something, nothing will change, and I will just be left a little sicker, a little more stressed and a little less empowered to bring about the world that I think we need. So what do I do?

On the one hand, I don’t want to piss anyone off. That comes down to approach. If I can maintain my composure, stay positive no matter what, and be prepared to be denied, I know I will win some long term points: credibility and the guts to ask for what I want areetnd stand by my convictions. Perhaps the driver and the manager are also consciously or sub-consciously uncomfortable with the noise and the air pollution being generated by what is probably just a bad habit. Hmmm.

Okay, I did it: I went across the street, into the bistro, and asked the waitress if she could ask the driver to turn off the engine as the sound was really irritating. She said he was downstairs and was just on a delivery… I replied that there was in fact a law against idling and that I was thinking about asking our city councilor if it could be more diligently enforced. She said they had received some flyer about it and that it would be good to turn off the engine not just for the sound issue ‘but for other reasons too…’ i.e. health! Amazing! She said she would ask the driver when he came back upstairs. I thanked her and left the restaurant, and returned upstairs to see what happened. And… VICTORY! A moment later the driver came out and turned off the engine! I couldn’t see his face up close to see if he was annoyed or just didn’t care, but perhaps it’ll get him thinking and he’ll turn off the engine at the next stop without being asked. I think I’ll bring over that waitress something to say thanks, and let her know about our little project here at Greening Duluth… and I think now I’ve got even more motivation to work on that laundry list and stop idling everywhere!

So here it is: My first post for our new, Greening Duluth blog. Appropriate, I think, to start with a small but solid example of how we can make changes just by strengthening our resolve and standing up for our beliefs. I invite you, dear reader, to post your own stories, thoughts, fears and hopes to this little blog, in the hopes we can inspire a change far beyond our wildest dreams. To sustainability, friendship and faith!