This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 16, 2012.
I'll be the first to admit that it's hard to normally get truly worked up over paper and plastic bags. The Boulder City Council is considering either a tax on them or banning them because they are so wasteful. London, England is considering a ban on straws for much the same reason.
There are good reasons. Plastic bags are a pain, don't dissolve, and like the six pack rings, are a danger to sea life and land. Turtles, fish, whales, and raccoons can neither digest, expel, nor escape their grip on appendage or alimentary canal. Paper bags dissolve easily, generally when you're carrying two full ones and either perspiration, rain, or dissolving moisture on frozen food within leaves you with butkis, but only if you walked from home to shop. If loading a car, paper is tuned to rip as you lift it out, smashing eggs and rolling food into the springs and terra incognita beneath the seats, where it awaits the next hot day to perform biological functions that would disperse a herd of feral pigs at a hundred yards. Plastic bags are more sturdy but adhere to each other in magical ways to provide at least one expanding hole after first use.
It doesn't have to be that way, of course. We can design and make plastic that dissolves after, say, three months or five years, but the problem is that they are needed, often enough, to perform for longer periods. Drinks, for example, can exist in cans for a long time, and nobody wants to store dissolving bags till needed.
Bill Maher did a piece on a company that made potato chip bags that bio-degraded very soon after opening, so they could go to the land fill guilt free. But there was a major problem. Apparently the manufacturer was told these bags were too noisy when being passed around and so nobody bought them. Maher, and anyone with an IQ, did not believe it but suggested even if true the product could be placed in a reusable bowl for passing. Unless the predicted life time of exposed to the element potato chips in your home was measured in days, of course.What was unsaid was that the bag manufacturers, horrified that their products might lose the cash stream from numerous food manufacturers, probably put the kabosh on the whole thing. Not for the easy profit of shareholders, of course. No, that would seem greedy. But from the point of view of jobs, the effect on families, God, and Country. We know the drill.
People are just beginning to trace out the logic lines to where environmental sense and good health practice will lead. For example, in my time at KGNU in Boulder we've gone from turntables to mini drives and downloads, eliminating all sorts of product and expense. Think of all the innovations in between, all digital based, starting with the computers themselves to the various forms of discs, some very plastic and floppy, to what we have now: a hard drive somewhere sending digital info to a hard drive here. Yes, compact discs still exist, but the tiny portable hard drives have sealed their doom. For those of us who remember well the excitement of the birth of affordable high fidelity records in the 1950's, this is awe inspiringly great.
For those concerned about the environment, it's even better: no plastic records, discs, cases, or wrapping. No cardboard album covers. No solid product at all, just digital signals replacing literal tons upon tons of product and thousands upon thousands of jobs.
It's no secret that those who produce the wood and harvest it and sell it were not thrilled when plastic evolved to replace them in large measure, and it's no secret that both industries are not happy about alternatives either. It's the conundrum of capitalism and socialism both. The consumer and consumerism are not the same thing as a customer, it turns out, but a different and expendable animal altogether. But when there is no consumer, except of food, but a rational environmentally educated customer, the efficiency and cleanliness kills jobs and reduces the need of people for each other in great numbers. This is surplus population way beyond what Marx or Smith or anyone could have imagined back in the day. Whatever else is a mountainous gorilla in our future room, none is bigger than this one. It's not as simple as saying people are more important than product. Are condescending make work jobs better?
When we talk about trivial things like bags, it's surprising how much stuff is inside them.