BMA has a special event trip each month called an eco-trip. We go trash bashing by canoe. That is, we take groups out on the Mississippi and Missouri River, often to Mosenthein Island or Duck Island and do cleanups. We haul tires, barrels, refrigerators and an unbelievable amount of plastic, aluminum and glass from the interior to the banks of the islands. Then we load what is safe and manageable into the Clipper and take it across to the main land for removal to recycle centers or landfills. Often BMA staffers have to return several times after the official trip to collect all that we gathered. Sometimes we get help, from our friends with big horse plate boats. We partner with Missouri River Relief, the New City River Kids, and many other organizations and individuals whose mission is to educate about and eradicate river trash.
Invariably, the people who join us on these eco-trip adventures return home with a great awareness of how our system of waste management fails to meet the demand, and more importantly, how it is a personal responsibility issue.
What does the average American produce in “garbage” on a daily basis?
It is 4.4 pounds per day or 1500 pounds per year. We lead the planet. Not so startling, but when you look at the details, you have to be appalled. Here is a list of facts. Our conclusion. Our methods of packaging all consumable things is grossly at fault. One of the biggest issues is the plastic bags that we carry our goods in.
Every year, Americans use approximately 1 billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste. (Clean Air Council. (2009, May). Why Plastic Bag Fees Work.)
Our comrade at Missouri River Relief, Melanie Cheney, has brought this to the attention of our social network, i.e Facebook friends and fans, with a series of postings about the attempts to reduce and in some cases make illegal the use of plastic bags. The West Coast seems to be leading the movement, but with minimal success. State laws to make illegal or put a surcharge on plastic bags have yet to come close to passage. One place, however, that has had a nation wide awakening and backed it up with legislation, a tax, and amazing success is Ireland.
Rather than avoid a nuevo Tea Party style uprising and embarrassing commentary by cable, bloggers and radio folks, the Irish government decided that a tax was the answer. A large scale advertising awareness campaign delivered the message. In 2002 Ireland passed a plastic bag tax that amounts currently to about 30 US cents per bag. It was applied at the register if you asked to use plastic. Go Irish!
Within weeks, there was a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use. Within a year, nearly everyone bought reusable cloth bags, which they now keep in the office and the back of their cars. Plastic bags became socially unacceptable – on par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after your dog.
Since Americans all can’t be Irish even if we wanted to, I suggest a simple exercise to see if you can do it without being taxed.
Don’t throw out your plastic bags for one month. Record how many you collect each week. Collect them all, the ones under the car seat, in the garage, kitchen, whenever you receive one with your purchases, keep it. See if by week 4, you have started to consider a change. Maybe by simply counting them weekly, you begin to reduce the use.
We did this at Big Muddy Adventures and are changing our ways. In fact, we collected ALL the garbage we produced here for one month, kept it in a bunch of big plastic bags, then separated it all on a tarp on the driveway. Whew! A month of garbage is tough on the senses.
When we had it all separated and ready to go to the recycle, land fill or compost, we proudly realized that we are better than the average American in this regard, but those plastic bags can be eradicated around here.