The American Plastics Council claims that the bag fee is a crazy idea, saying in the San Francisco Chronicle that "this will hurt those who can least afford it." Just the opposite is true.
Northern Californians Against Plastic presented figures to show that if each of the 347,000+ households in San Francisco were to purchase a couple of cotton or canvas bags, over the approximate 10-year life of those bags the total amount saved -- compared to everyone using eight bags each week at 17 cents each -- by consumers would collectively be over $300 million. And, the bag fee would mean revenue to fund programs for the poor such as free reusable natural-fiber bags. The Chronicle and the Commission on Environment (the San Francisco body putting the bag fee proposal to the Supervisors for an ordinance) have this new information.
A movement to spearhead the fight against plastics is forming now. While there have been municipal bans of polystyrene (styrofoam), the plastics/petroleum industry has had a free ride at the expense of the health of the planet and our bodies. While endocrine disruptors and estrogen imitators have been targeted by researchers and public-spirited writers and health organizations, government has done next to nothing as it bows down to industry interests. The War On Plastic will encompass not just a few "problem chemicals" or "the worst plastics," because they are all bad in at least some single way. We must reject the entire toxic petroleum plague to our fullest capability, beginning now.
In California, to complement the fledgling Campaign Against the Plastic Plague formed this year in southern California, we at Culture Change have joined this effort with a northern California emphasis. One of our first projects is to support the San Francisco bag fee. We are visiting more Californian communities as you read this, promoting bag fees and bans on certain plastics. Next, the whole state. We will face increasing opposition. But when our rationale and data are considered, almost no one will be able to turn away and ignore the issues.
Waiting for technology to save the lifestyle of using unlimited plastics, by having bioplastics replace the petroleum, is no help. We find that after studying the problems with plant-based replacements (see end section), and seeing the examples of other environmental problems saddled with non-solutions, fundamental change is the only reasonable approach. Such change will address the whole -- our social system, the ecosystem and the economy -- instead of spinning our wheels on the ineffectual reforms of mere symptoms of our extremely wasteful society.
Science misleads in the cancer game
The ubiquitous presence of plastics is already killing us. Exactly "how" is never going to be completely isolated. Eighty per cent of cancers are environmentally derived. When we wonder where the epidemic of cancer is coming from, can we say that plastics gave Ms. Jane Doe cancer? Perhaps, but cancer is coming from not only plastics and their associated toxins as well as from radiation sources, smog, the modern chemically tainted diet, household and workplace chemicals, etc. To say cancer is "genetic" is to put the onus on our intrinsic humanity, so as to ignore the 80% environmental-source principle.
The absolute proof that a case of cancer came from a particular cause or chemical is usually lacking, except in the case of certain rare cancers from identifiable chemicals. Or, a massive exposure can be blamed for specific cancers when it assaults a community such as Union Carbide's mass poisoning of Bhopal, India. The lack of exact, causal evidence clearly pointing to plastics, for example, when considering cancer, is most convenient for the status quo. This points up the faulty approach of focusing on a certain chemical villain, or set of bad chemicals -- as if the rest are safe and the technocratic bureaucracy will save us. The public is encouraged by industry to think a certain cancer is caused by overexposure to a certain chemical not yet regulated, so corporate profits can roll along in the context of technological progress that the public has been trained not to question. In reality, thousands of marketed chemicals and their combinations have not been tested to see if they are harmful.
Whether or not scientists can measure a substance should not be the point. What we don't see or detect can be lethal enough. Migration and release of plastics' chemicals into our food, water and skin is of little interest to the government and its corporate friends. But certain principles won't go away:. For example, polymerizing does not perfectly bind the petroleum chemicals together, especially when substances such as carcinogenic plasticizers are added after polymerization. Did you think that cute "rubber" duckie in the bath tub was harmless? Think again.
The U.S. public is thus treated every bit as shabbily as the Third World victims of plastic pollution. In India, where much of Americans' plastic "recycling" (mostly trash) is sent, the authorities dismiss the sad public health impact there by asking, "How can you prove that these plastic and lead recycling factories are causing these problems?" [source: Plastic Task Force, Berkeley Ecology Center] In a land like India where biotech crops and corporate fast-food outlets have been sabotaged, it is possible that folks there may intensify their destroying whatever is destroying them.
When the environmental movement holds back forthright judgment, and the environment and our health are not protected, people do need to take on plastics and other threats personally. This is because the mainstream movement to protect the environment and public health is going practically nowhere. This is exactly what industry and its scientists want. It's as if industry is funding the environmental movement; in large part it is.
Your War on Plastics
We all need to be awakened, as if a "Pearl Harbor" event suddenly was telling us that plastics threaten us. However, the prevailing attitude by those already concerned about plastics is that we must just focus on reducing the use of one or two key plastics while continuing to push recycling. This philosophy of compromise, without stating the whole truth that plastics must be eliminated as much and as fast as possible, is a deadly mistake. The funded environmental movement and public health officials are needlessly resigned to accepting a plastic world just because ignorant consumers have habits. The approach of promoting only the bringing of one's own bag for shopping, along with the recycling con game and waiting for bioplastics, has failed and needs to be abandoned publicly.
Paul Goettlich is the director of Mindfully.org, a nonprofit dedicated to
exposing the effects and costs of technology on our bodies and society.
The plastics section on Mindfully.org is the most extensive wholistic set of documents
and scientific data that exists on plastics. "There are no safe plastics,"
Goettlich says. "The tendency of environmental organizations is to
proclaim what the worst or the best plastics are, so we can go on using
them. It is ill conceived and does not address the relevant issues. All
plastics migrate toxins into whatever they contact at all times. It does
not matter if it is water- or oil-based; hot or cold; solid or liquid,"
Analogy:: When war is used as a solution in reacting to an alleged threat
or terror, etc., (Saddam, Noriega, ad infinitum) we fail to focus on the real
problem -- the cause of the war, which is usually corporate America.
are distracted by one alarm after another, while war profiteers and jingoistic
politicians bleed us dry. Its the same with plastics -- the chemicals
are the battles but the war is really about plastic and petroleum dependence. The
focus of environmental organizations is the individual chemical, while
refusing to promote real solutions such as reusable nontoxic, nonplastic
replacement of containers and bags. Instead of wondering what plastic
might be safer to microwave, we say "None. And don't microwave
anyway. It creates free radicals -- the precursors to cancer -- in your
food." This is war, and we've already been critically
damaged. Join us!
As discussed in "Plastics your formidable enemy," published last August in this column, the supply of petroleum products such as plastics will dry up thanks to the extreme market response that we can anticipate as soon as geologic reality triggers panic. The peak of oil extraction is imminent, with natural gas to follow soon after. Most plastic bags are made from natural gas (methane).
A host of poisonous chemicals are imbedded in plastic that are unstable, causing genetic damage and resultant disease. To reiterate, as it is not possible to attribute most environmental diseases to specific chemicals or products, industry gets a free ride in killing people and the planet for profit. The reductionist approach of science, and the domination of research by corporations and corrupt government agencies, tricks citizens into ceding their power to specialists wedded to the economic/academic system and its inherent flaws.
Here are a few of the critical, insurmountable challenges from plastic's production and disposal:
= Clear plastic food wrap contains up to 30% DEHP [di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate]. This substance is also in intravenous blood bags. This poison was identified by the State of California for its Proposition 65 list of carcinogens and mutagens, but industry pressure got the listing weakened.
= In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it was found that 1,000,000 times more toxins are concentrated on the plastic debris and plastic particles than in ambient sea water;
= Six times as much plastic per weight than zooplankton is in any given amount of sea water taken from the middle of the Pacific Ocean;
= Triclosan, in plastics as well as antibacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, cosmetics, and fabrics, is shown to cause health and environmental effects and compound antibiotic resistance. Researchers found that when sunlight is shined on triclosan in water and on fabric, a portion of triclosan is transformed into dioxin.
= Migration from all seven categories of plastic designated with numerals on packaging, including the recyclable types 1 and 2, are (partial list): Acetaldehde, antioxidants, BHT, Chimassorb 81, Irganox (PS 800, 1076, 1010), lead, cadmium, mercury, phthatlates, and the acknowledged carcinogen diethyl hexyphosphate.
= Many more such additives are often present, creating in our bodies synergisms that can be 1,600 times as strong as an estrogen imitator/endocrine disruptor/single chemical may be.
The main issue surrounding the use of polyvinylchloride (PVC) is the
impact of toxic pollutants generated throughout its life cycle. A
Greenpeace (UK) study from October 2001 stated in its headline, "UK
Government report on PVC misses the point, but still condemns PVC windows and
floors." Unfortunately, Greepeace did not quite get it either when it
advocated for plastic replacements seemingly less poisonous: "PVC should be
phased out and replaced with non chlorinated materials - timber, linoleum,
polyethylene, PET, polypropylene and others." Will Greenpeace declare
War on Plastic?
"A lot of bio-engineered row crops, using petroleum fertilizers and plasticizers to make the throw away society perpetuate itself, is not appropriate. A mess of slowly degrading rubbish on our fences and shores could be worse than non-degradables." - Captain Charles Moore, plastics pollution researcher.
Because of our huge population size and high consumption levels, there would not be much arable land or species-diversity left over if the consumer demand for plastics, for example, were to come from agriculture (no matter if it were organic or GMO-maximum pesticide), even if it were possible to do this to the Earth and our communities. We cannot imagine a plant-based approach only for plastics and not expect that other fossil fuel needs would not be part of the same approach of agricultural strip-mining. There would be competition for land from many pressures and interests, trying in vain to replicate the petroleum economy with a plant-based one..
That is another reason the real solution comes down to just cutting consumption of petroleum
to the max. How about no plastics -- not using plastics to the extent we can
manage doing so. We will be forced to deal with virtually total
shortage of plastic production due to imminent petroleum crash. So
goes bioplastics and other technofixes right out the window, because they will not
be in place to ramp up. Better not to dream about them, but rather get
on with preparing for a sustainable future based on reality.
As we've seen with energy issues, this mindset of the technofix and
"clean" energy down the road just puts off facing the fact that
consumption must be slashed immediately, particularly when the
infrastructure for the "green" Utopia for energy consumption would
rely on the present petroleum-based infrastructure. The critical
context is vast
overpopulation, already achieved thanks to petroleum dependence.
The following is from a government analyst friendly to the campaign against plastics:
"If additional criteria were added to plastics that are biodegradable or compostable that made them sustainable, then I might feel more comfortable with the shift away from plastics made from hydrocarbons. Specifically, sustainable agricultural practices should be used with the development of any agricultural materials grown for plastic production (i.e. no GMOs, no pesticide/insecticide/ fungicide use, and other principles of sustainable agriculture that prevent soil erosion). Use of waste agricultural materials, such as byproducts from growing sugar cane, should be given a higher priority since it closes the loop on production.
"Another concern is that the ASTM standards for biodegradable and compostable plastics do not address the issue of plastic additives. So, there is no reason to believe that the plasticizing additives that cause cancer and hormone disruption will not be used in these new plastics. Prohibition on the use of harmful chemicals additives should be added to the criteria for sustainable plastics. For example, Dupont is marketing "Greenpla." When you check their website about biodegradable plastics and see Dupont's "Biomax," we see its generic name is "Polybutylenesuccinate/terephthalate" [Note that the last phrase, phthalate, is in a class of highly toxic compounds. - ed.]
From Paul Goettlich, whose comments were directed, as were the above comments in this section, to the Campaign Against the Plastic Plague participants in early December 2004:
"The concept that something can take on the properties required for containers to then be composted into its original components -- just as found in nature -- is a stretch at best. Engineers and scientists may come up with any number of standards that attempt to define nature, but what it conforms to is a reductionist model that does not work when applied to whole systems.
"I am completely against promoting biodegradable products. They are the happy alternative that allows people to continue consuming without regard to many associated issues. PLA plastics utilize corn grown on corporate monoculture farms and will be some variety genetically engineered corn that will be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup.
"Industrial farms also destroy communities they are in. Unions are busted. Communication between farmers is destroyed. An adversarial mood is instilled in the community. The farmer is rapidly being disappeared by the likes of Monsanto. It will do anything and say anything to make a buck. Percy Schmeiser [sued by Monsanto for having Round-Up-ready plants inadvertently growing on his farm) is a perfect example. It is not wise to ignore the consequences of dealing with Monsanto, Cargill, and any of the other agribusiness giants.
"At first look, the concept of biodegradable seems admirable. But follow the links out in all directions until you think there are no more, and then dig deeper. It is not enough to merely see that a plastic degrades. What we don't see amounts to so much more and must be considered before any new technology is accepted."
"Alternatives to (petroleum) plastics," according to the Berkeley Ecology Center's Plastic Task Force do not include bioplastics:
Could it be that the solid waste nightmare precludes their embracing bioplastics? The Berkeley Ecology Center is the oldest and one of the most thorough recycling operations in the U.S.
- December 9-20, 2004, Berkeley/Oakland, California
For a shorter version of the above, syndicated nationally that contains an Action Alert on San Francisco's Bag Fee, see Truthout.org dated February 7, 2005. Please use the links below instead of the ones on the slightly different list on Jan's Truthout article. Also please note that the Truthout version omitted discussion of the biotech aspect of bioplastics.
To read letters to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on the bag fee from Culture Change readers, and to see Jan Lundberg's testimony of Feb. 8, 2005, see Feedback/Plastics webpage.
Jan Lundberg's first report on the
subject: Plastics: Your Formidable Enemy
Change Letter #70
78 Reasonable Questions to Ask about Any Technology by STEPHANIE MILLS / Clamor, i.18, Jan/Feb03
Funding link for Northern Californians Against Plastic:
Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing: contact firstname.lastname@example.org