As usual, I’m not exactly sure what Danny Westneat is getting at. (That’s just kinda his style: tossing out apparently contrarian tidbits, and then leaving it to readers to impose their own agenda.) Danny interviews Ravenna’s renowned “oceanic garbologist” Curt Ebbesmeyer, who points out that those plastic grocery bags the mayor wants to slap a 20-cent fee on are just “one little battle out of a million.”
“If the mayor really wants to get on the stick, he should go after plastic bottles. Or plastic wrapping of food products. Or how about a tax or a ban on petroleum-based plastic, period?”
For his part, Danny performed his own field… um… beach research, confirming Ebbesmeyer’s remark:
I did my own garbology “dig” at low tide in Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park. In half an hour poking along 300 yards of shoreline, I found a demoralizing 173 pieces of trash.
Take out the wood (paintbrush), the metal (beer cans, foil wrappers) and the miscellaneous (earplugs, nicotine patches, ropes, a corncob, an orange traffic cone), and I was left with 137 pieces of plastic.
Top item, by far: Plastic bottles. Followed by plastic bottle caps. Then plastic lids and plastic cups. Plus a slew of plastic food packaging.
Number of plastic grocery or drugstore bags? One.
Sure, we get it Danny… one city discouraging the wasteful use of disposable bags won’t make much of an impact on such a huge problem (the way one individual conserving energy won’t slow global warming). But I know something that would make a difference, and quick: we could all, you know, stop littering!
When I was a kid in the early seventies the most visible element of the nascent environmental movement was a nationwide anti-littering campaign. It was drummed into us at school, it was relentlessly reinforced in PSAs on TV and on billboards. I even saw a state trooper pull over a car for dumping a handful of trash out the window on the Atlantic City Expressway.
Nowadays I witness trash spewing out of car windows or falling out of the hands of defiant teens on a regular basis. Recently I confronted a kid on a neighborhood playground for dropping their empty candy wrapper on the ground, and they just looked at me with one of those expressions of disdain reserved for, well, adults, before indifferently turning around and walking away. If that had been me thirty-some years ago, told to pick up my trash, I would have been mortified.
No doubt the social taboo against public littering was always strongest amongst affluent suburbanites, but it appears to be waning across the board these days, and I don’t see much of a concerted effort to reinforce it. So let’s start drumming it into our kids again, confronting offenders with reproach, and instructing the police to hand out littering tickets on our streets and our sidewalks. And let’s get that crying Indian back on TV again, for chrisakes.