Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Going green

Here in Cayman, a few years ago, our supermarkets imposed a five-cents charge on plastic bags. The advertised purpose was to help save the world from plastic. Some of the cynics amongst us raised our eyebrows at the explanation – but, what can you do?

Cutting down on plastic bags is good for our souls, I guess. Self-denial of that kind is a tribute to the virtues of simpler times. It’s like after local hurricanes, when we all do without electricity and town water & sewage for a while. Forgoing our beloved plastic shopping bags doesn’t make heroes of us, but it won’t do us any harm. Indeed, logic demands that the supermarkets not stop with the shopping bags.

I bought a memory-stick for my computer last week. It was the size of my little finger, and came in a tough plastic package as big as a book. That package used more plastic than 200 shopping bags, and the plastic would stop a bullet. If the Police budget doesn’t run to Kevlar vests for everybody, they could keep a few of those plastic packages in stock to shove under their shirts when things get rough.

In fact, rather than sell us the bags for five cents apiece, why don’t the supermarkets simply divert shipments of new bags directly to Haiti, our poorest neighbour? Earth Day gimmicks aren’t a top priority in Haiti. Most of the victims of the last earthquake are still living in gutters and dying in pain. Plastic shopping bags are all that most Haitians have to keep them dry from the rain above and the filthy drains they sleep beside.

Plastic bags are all they have to keep their food safe, when they have food. When the only food they have is mud cakes, plastic shopping bags help to keep clean mud separated from mud mixed with faeces. We would be doing them a big favour by sending them all the bags we don’t use.

Anyway, we in Cayman are too few in number to make any noticeable difference to the world’s consumption of plastic. If our bag-usage is typical of our region, there must be ten billion bags a year doing the rounds throughout the Caribbean region. Why bother?

News reports tell of a gigantic floating pile of plastic and other rubbish in the ocean up between Japan and Canada, labelled The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Nobody knows for certain how big it is, but its area may well be thousands of times the area of Grand Cayman and its volume, billions of times the volume of the town dump we call “Mount Trashmore”.

Even Mount Trashmore is too big for us to do anything about. At least, it’s too big for our public sector to do anything about. There are enough engineers and other experts among Cayman’s retirees to fix it – if they could fend off the dead hand of state bureaucracy, which they can’t!

For the moment, we must settle for dealing with just the plastic shopping bags – a drop in the ocean, so to speak. Is it a futile gesture? Of course; but sometimes the world needs a futile gesture.

We are told that plastic shopping bags never disintegrate. Scientists (well, “scientists”...) tell us that they take somewhere between 400 and 1000 years to degrade. Hmph. I don’t know how anybody could know that. If you throw plastic bags on a fire they shrivel right up. Even left out in the sun they disintegrate in a lot fewer than 400-to-1000 years. Keep it real, people! That’s how “man-made global warming” scientists screwed up their act, by mixing lies with truths.

The thick plastic that can fend off bullets, though – that might last 400 years, with care. It might be a positive thing if we sent it to the Haitians. It could be that long before they become rich enough to classify it as a nuisance.