« Previous  
 Next »

Paper or Plastic?

01/15/08 7:55AM By Mike Martin
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST) Commentator Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School. Now that China has banned free plastic bags, he's been thinking about a new fashion accessory inspired by French grandmothers. It's a trend that's all the rage - and it's good for the environment, too.

(MARTIN) In French supermarkets, they never ask you if you’d like paper or plastic. The cashier just beeps your items, tosses you a few flimsy plastic bags, and stands there watching as you bag your own groceries. So I was a little offended a few years ago when the cashier didn’t even give me the cheap bags. "To save the environment," she explained, "we’re now offering these sturdier plastic bags at the price of 50 centimes each."  Yeah, right, I thought to myself - but it did get my attention.

Of course, French women of a certain age have never chosen plastic. When they go to the market, they always take their filet, which is a bag with a lot of holes in it. Actually, it’s not really a bag at all; it’s sort of a mesh tote, and its name in French means "net."  And even if the younger generation makes fun of them, some French matriarchs like to carry their provisions in a caddie, sort of a two-wheeled stroller for your groceries.

Well, the young people aren’t laughing at their grandmas now: turns out the French mamies were way ahead of the times with their reusable shopping gear. Turns out plastic shopping bags are a modern-day plague for our planet. They blow through suburbs until they get stuck in trees and despoil nature.  They clog drains in cities, and they hurt crops in agricultural areas. Plastic bags also kill cows, goats, birds, sea turtles, dolphins, and whales by the thousands. In some developing countries, where they’re used as toilets, plastic bags spread disease by holding pools of bacteria that can’t return to the earth.

It’s gotten bad enough that many city governments in the New York metropolitan area may soon join San Francisco and others in banning plastic bags or requiring that they be biodegradable. It’s about time. In Ireland there’s already a special tax on plastic bags, and in Nigeria, some officials invoke Islam to encourage citizens to avoid plastic bags.

And since it takes millions of barrels of oil to make the estimated 100 billion plastic bags Americans use every year, ending plastic bags would also decrease our oil consumption.

It’s sad to see that the fashionistas have provided more leadership on plastic bags than our leaders. British designer Anya Hindmarch started the trend with her cotton shopping bag that says "I’m NOT a plastic bag" on the side. The bag originally retailed for £5 in Great Britain, but now it’s so hot now it’s been selling for over $200 on eBay. And now that Marc Jacobs, whose handbags make hip women drool, is making affordable "eco-totes," reusable shopping bags are, like, way in. And plastic bags are, like, so never again.

So, the next time somebody asks me, "Paper or plastic?"  I’m going to hold up my French granny shopping net and answer, all snobby, "None of the above."

You can find more commentaries from Mike Martin at VPR-dot-net.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter