Italy Bans Plastic Bags

Okay it’s the 11 March but I’ve only just discovered this. Italy banned non-biodegradable, single-use plastic bags on 1 January 2011.

“Sustainability is made of little changes to our lifestyle that don’t cost us anything and can save the planet,” said Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italian Environmental Minister.

While the bags do cost more to make, so far that hasn’t been passed onto consumers (as far as I know) and research has shown that Italians have always disliked the thin single-use bags and were ready for stronger multi-use ones.

Yay Italy I say.


The Big Plastic Bag Debate

These days, stepping out with a plastic bag carries as much of a stigma as admitting that you kick kittens for pleasure or actively engage in the torture of insects for fun. Plastic is rapidly becoming the swear word of our green generation, and more and more manufacturers are becoming aware that they are no longer able to rely on this expensive and environmentally-harmful way of packaging goods and promoting their brands.

Despite the huge awareness about the dangers of using plastic bags for groceries and other uses, a study by National Geographic has revealed the following facts about the plastic bag trade, showing:
• To date the only large city to ban plastic bags is San Francisco
• Only Washington DC has elected to tax shoppers that receive plastic bags
• No state has banned plastic bags
• No state has taxed plastic bags.

So it seems that not much changes when it comes to reducing the manufacture and use of the commodity, despite the huge amount of publicity which the use of plastics for bags has generated over recent months.

Why are people so slow to ditch plastic in favour of other materials?
Plastic bags came in to use a quarter of a century ago, and have been immensely popular ever since. Sturdy, cheap to produce and durable, they are the bag of choice for grocery stores and the convenience market. Easy to carry and easy to store, they tend to be more practical than their paper counterparts, regardless of the environmental risks associated with their use.

Plastic bags

Why are plastic bags so awful?
Plastic bags have few redeeming features when it comes to the environment. They are not biodegradable, meaning that any which are discarded end up in landfill clogging up the eco system. They block drains, drift in the sea and get in to the stomachs of creatures such as turtles, killing them. The true cost of plastic bags on the environment is staggering. Data released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 on US plastic bag, sack, and wrap consumption shows that somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Of those, millions end up in the litter stream outside of landfills.

A spokesperson for the American Plastics Council has stated that the US is embarking upon a crusade against the use of plastic bags, even if this crusade isn‘t reflected by laws around their use: “We feel it is important to understand that plastic grocery bags are some of the most reused items around the house. Many, many bags are reused as book and lunch bags as kids head off to school, as trash can liners, and to pickup Fido’s droppings off the lawn.”

Once plastic bags are put in to the environment, it takes months to hundreds of years for them to break down. As they decompose, toxic chemicals seep into soils, lakes, rivers, and the oceans. Despite all the evidence against the use of plastic bags, the Society of the Plastics Industry based in Washington DC, states that they are still the right choice for consumers. Compared to paper grocery bags, plastic grocery bags consume forty percent less energy, generate eighty percent less solid waste, produce seventy percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to ninety-four percent fewer waterborne wastes. While a plastic bag costs around one cent to produce, a paper equivalent costs around four.

Regardless of the arguments for and against the use of these items, there is no question but that using a cotton equivalent which can be used again and again will be less harmful to the environment than using plastic bags that are discarded after one use.

Toxic America – A CNN Two Night Special

On June 2nd and 3rd in the US, CNN has a special series on shows on “Toxic America“. Hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta,the first night, dubbed Toxic Towns USA, focusing on CNN’s year-long investigation into the residents of Mosseville, Louisiana, who for decades have claimed that toxic chemicals in the air have been making them sick. The second night, Toxic Childhood, delves into effects of unseen chemicals on ALL of us, particularly how much of these toxins are being passed onto the babies of pregnant women.

There are more details on the website, but a few of the show’s findings:
– Exposure to car and truck exhaust in the womb has been shown to result in lower IQ at age five.
– Babies enter the world with more than 200 dangerous chemicals in their blood (!), including flame retardants, dioxins, substances in non-stick coatings like Teflon and hormone-like compounds found in plastic.
– Out of the 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States, the EPA has only tested about 200 and only banned five.

There are some promo clips on their YouTube channel (which I can’t embed here, sorry!), but it looks very interesting!

Find Out How They Make Plastic Into Fabric

We get lots of emails at Life Goggles and one the other week turned out to be a two in one deal. Not only did it link to a digital editions of magazines via a website called Cloverleaf, but the article it pointed to for a free preview was about how plastic is recycled into fabric.

The article is from ReadyMade magazine and you can read it here. A little more info and picture of the digital edition are below.

The article follows the process it takes to turn a bottle into fabric, from the chipped plastic bits that resemble snow cone filling to the fiber filaments that “feel eerily like human hair gone unwashed for so long that it’s soft with grease.” There’s also some great photos, and surprising facts like it takes just 10 plastic bottles to make a pound of fiber.


Wales To Be Britain’s Biggest Plastic Recycler

It was only earlier in 2008 that Closed Loop Recycling opened its plant in Dagenham, England. But now it’s been announced that an even bigger plant is to open in Deeside, Wales.

The £12 plant has been given the go-ahead by the Government and it’s hoped it will open next year. The existing plant is the first recycling facility in the world to take plastic milk and drink bottles and turn them back into plastic suitable to be made into more drink bottles – hence the ‘closed loop’ bit.

Closed Loop

The new plant will recycle 50,000 tonnes of bottles that would have otherwise gone to a landfill in the UK or shipped abroad. To put that in perspective, a 500kg bale of plastic bottles contains around 12,500 of them, so multiply 25,000 by 50,000 and you have a huge number of bottles that are getting recycled.

It’s a very clever process how they sort all the bottles out, you can find out for yourself here.

Act2 GreenSmart Messenger Bag Review

Finding alternative green materials to the most commonly used synthetic materials out there is often a challenge. I was delighted to be sent a Act2 GreenSmart horizontal messenger bag. The bad also comes in a vertical version and in Storm Blue.

I’ve put together a quick video of the bag so you can see all it’s features. If you can’t see the video please click here.

It features front and back zipped pockets, magnetic snaps on the front, three smaller inside pockets, two large inside pockets, with the second one divided into two and padded for your laptop. Using 30 16 ounce PET (plastic) drink bottles as the material, this is the easiest plastic to recycle (symbol 1).

The bag is great, certainly large enough to contain everything, er, a messenger bag should contain. It’s stylish (my wife loved the colour!), strong in my tests, and it certainly looks like it’s durable and tough enough for day to day use.

My only slight concern is the price. At around $70 – $75 it’s not the cheapest bag out there, but looking at ones of similar style, build and quality (as far as I could tell) it is only about $10 more than comparable “non-green” laptop messenger bags that I could find. Of course you can get bags for $30, as you can for $300, so although it may seem expensive it’s a matter of getting what you pay for, and in this case I think that’s a lot.

Made by Act2 GreenSmart they are available from a few places including agreenplace4u for about $74.99. The vertical version is $69.99.