Unloading a little baggage

Chances are Gaylord Nelson is not a household name for most Americans living outside the dairy belt. For those without the benefit of Google at their fingertips, here’s a clue. He was responsible for that worldwide celebration we all just commemorated (or hopefully at least acknowledged). No, I’m not talking about 4/20, and get out from under the parachute, for god’s sake. I’m talking about that annual rite of spring, which just so happens to hold the same birth year as yours truly: Earth Day. Anyway, April 22 has come and gone, just like poor Gaylord, who, by the way, was not some flower child overcome by a psychedelic vision while living out of a VW van but a well-respected U.S. senator from Wisconsin.

History lessons aside, I suspect old Gaylord is probably quite proud of how far his little hatchling of an idea has come. Not only are we no longer dumping PCBs into our rivers or putting DDT on our food, but there hasn’t been a major nuclear accident in at least 20 years (knock on wood.)

Alas, there are still miles to go before Gaylord can sleep peacefully in his grave (that is, while he’s not haunting the person who gave him that awful name.) Wet-cooled coal-fired power plants aside, there are other immediate dangers facing our shiny blue bubble, which up until recently has been the envy of the whole solar system. Of course, being only one person, I am only able to embark on one crusade at a time (other than my battle against the improper use of the English language, which is always ongoing.) That’s right: I’m waging war on the plastic bag.

Let’s just follow this declaration up with a disclaimer, lest any eco-horror skeletons escape from my greenwashed closet. Yes, I once was guilty of Styrofoam peanuting an entire yard in retaliation for a t.p.ing incident the night before my wedding. The not-so-stealth perpetrators set off the dog alarm at 3 a.m., rendering me insomniatic the rest of the night. Suffice to say, hell hath no fury like a bride with puffy eyes on her wedding day.

Let me also state for the record that I am not against plastic bags per se, particularly as a handy carrying case for dog doo and those other little messy facts of life. Rather, I am trying to put a stop to plastic bag abuse. For starters, I think we’d all agree they don’t particularly add to the landscaape as an adornment in trees and fencelines. Further, does anyone, other than extremely obsessive compulsives, really need a separate bag for every single item on his or her shopping list? I know most grocery baggers are overworked and underpaid, but god forbid the toothpaste gets intermingled with the gum. Sure plastic’s cheap, but I see no reason to send people home with enough baggage to fill the Superdome.

Local stores are already taking steps to remedy this with the recent cloth bag campaign, which I heartily applaud. But not to brag, I can honestly say I was getting eye rolls and impatient sighs at the checkout long before City Market every dreamt of the 5-cent bag discount.

Anyway, turns out my baganoia is not so unfounded after all. Apparently somewhere out in the BFE Pacific Ocean, where four currents converge in the Northern Pacific Gyre, there’s a plastic trash island twice as big as Texas (I will refrain from drawing any smartass corollaries here between Texas and trash since I am trying to prove a serious point.) Also known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” it’s basically a 100-metric-ton swirling vortex of trash, sort of like the world’s largest garbage disposal. And it’s made mostly of, you guessed it, the evil substance that made Barbie the worldwide superstar she is today. Anyway, if that’s not enough to make you swear off Lunchables forever, consider this, not only is the pile (which is described as more of a “stew”) doubling in size every year, but it is making its way onto pristine beaches and into the gullets of fuzzy and finny little marine animals. (For a particularly disturbing visual, Google the photos of the albatross with a belly full of bottle caps and toothbrush handles.)

Of course, the North Pacific Gyre (and even Texas for that matter) are a long way from Durango. But apparently, not far enough. See, it takes one silly little plastic bag hundreds of years to degrade (note, I didn’t say “biodegrade,” since plastic never really goes away.) Instead, it slowly decomposes into microscopic plankton-like “nurdles” (a real word) that are ingested by fish and ultimately end up, where else, at the top of the food chain. The grizzlies, great whites, and you and me.

While this may be the most alarming example of the plastifying of our planet, it is by no means the only one. In fact, scientists speculate that the first Wal-Mart or Taco Bell calling card is due to wash up on the shores of Antarctica any day now, a chilling milestone if ever there was one.

And while the tide probably can’t be turned, there is something that can be done to stem the flow: BYOB. And encourage, guilt, cajole, bribe, plead or do whatever it takes to persuade others to do the same. If you feel even more strongly about the cause, check out: http: //www.thepetitionsite.com/1/plastic-ban-durango-colorado, a local grassroots effort to ban plastic bags at local stores and mini marts started by FLC student Ashleigh Tucker (who happens to be as big of a bag Nazi as me.) And if the idea sounds preposterous, consider that such bans have already been enacted by numerous countries and cities around the world, including San Francisco, with Boston, Phoenix and Portland, Ore., considering similar bans. Even China, in the ultimate irony, has enacted a ban on those free, flimsy flotsam on the eve of the summer Olympics, requiring merchants to offer sturdier options.

See, we can only live in the oblivious plastic bubble for so long. As for the Earth, well, that’s one bubble I think we’d like to keep around.

– Missy Votel

In this week's issue...

July 18, 2024
Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale