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We need a tax on plastic bags

Posted on September 30th 2009 by Arthur in Environment, Life in America

I’ve been living here now for just over a year, and I can’t believe the amount of plastic that is being used, especially at grocery stores. We usually bring our own reusable bags when we go shopping, but 99 out of 100 other people don’t, at least not where we shop. Even gallons of milk, with a perfectly fine handle to carry, are often double-bagged (or triple!) because the cashier or bagger thinks the milk is too heavy for just one bag. It doesn’t even occur to them that the customer could just as well carry the jug by its handle. The other day we went to K-Mart to buy a six-pack of half liter bottles of Coke for our road trip. The pack had a beautiful strong handle to carry them, but the cashier still tried to double-bag them before we stopped her. What a waste!

Sometimes it’s even impossible to not use the plastic bags. Many grocery stores have baggers at the end of every register that start bagging your stuff before you have a chance to hand them your reusable bag. And places like K-Mart and Walmart often have one of those carousels full of plastic bags at every register that cashiers drop the stuff in, making it impractical to use your own reusable bag because there’s simply no space to put it.

Pile of plastic bags

According to, the people of this planet use over 500,000,000,000 (500 billion) plastic bags annually, or almost 1 million per minute! One million new bags a minute?! That’s hard too imagine. According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States alone uses 100 billion annually, which cost the country an estimated 12 million barrels of oil to produce.

When we lived in Holland we would occasionally drive down to France to do some grocery shopping for things we couldn’t normally get, at mega supermarkets like E. Leclerc or Carrefour. Until a few years ago they were using plastic bags everywhere. They would give you a hundred for free if you wanted to, packing just a few items in each bag. Every family was leaving their local supermarché‎ with their purchased goods in a ton of plastic bags. Then all of a sudden the government passed a law to tax plastic bags. The next time we visited the country every single French shopper was carrying their re-usable bags into the store. It was an amazing transformation, but it was like it had never been any different. It is that easy!

Back in 2001, Ireland was the first nation to tax plastic bags as a way to stop them from littering the countryside. Before the tax, every Irish man, woman and child would use an average of 300 bags per year, a total of 1.2 billion per year for the country. Besides generating more than $175m for the government, the 7-year-old tax has reduced the country’s use of disposable bags by 90%. Apparently that is not yet enough, because this week the Irish government announced it is doubling its tax from 22 euro cents to 44 cents per bag.

France and Ireland are not the only countries that are taking measures to push consumers to use more eco-friendly products. Belgium enacted a “picnic” tax in 2007, which includes saran wrap and aluminum foil. Earlier this year, even China banned stores from giving out free plastic bags!

Obama promised change and the environment is among his to priorities. So what about a federal tax on plastic bags, or at least encourage states to implement one? Sure, in the beginning people will be outraged, but before they realize they’ll be walking from their car to their local Piggly Wiggly with a nice reusable shopping bag. We’ll save millions of barrels of oil each year and 100,000s of sea turtles too.

Grass police

Posted on September 29th 2009 by Arthur in Life in America

The house across the street from us has been empty since we moved in here. Every two weeks or so a landscaping company, hired by the owner, comes by to mow the grass. We noticed that the last few times they forgot to remove some weeds in front of the garage, and those are now a couple of feet tall. No big deal, you hardly notice it.

This morning there was a white truck, with the text “Code Department” on the side, parked in front of the house. The driver was straining his neck looking at the house while taking notes. The man stepped out of his truck with a measuring stick and walked around taking pictures of the weeds while holding the stick next to them.

1832 lawnmower

I like a nicely manicured and landscaped lawn, it looks beautiful, but is it any business of the city to tell people how long their grass should be? Now, if my neighbor had piles of garbage on his lawn, was playing loud music late at night or had a hemp farm in his backyard, those are things the police should write a ticket for … but grass that is a few inches too long? Come on!

When we moved here in February we went to the City Hall to ask if there was any information they had for us, about garbage pick-up and things like that. There was nothing. Actually, all they gave us was a newsletter from 2007. I had no idea there was a grass ordinance like this. I just checked their website and indeed grass in our community may not be taller than 8 inches (20 cm).

A couple of weeks ago our neighbor came to borrow our lawnmower because his had just broken down and he claimed that the ‘police’ had told him that morning to mow his lawn or get a fine the next day. I didn’t believe him about the police until today. The neighbor’s grass didn’t seem that long at all! Maybe some patches were slightly over 8 inches, but to fine him for that? Come on!

Slightly longer grass is actually better for the environment. Besides the obvious reason that using your gas-powered lawnmower less often saves gas, longer grass also requires less watering as moisture is reserved in the leafs and it provides a natural habitat for insects, worms and other food for birds.

I understand people want to live in a neat Wisteria Lane-type neighborhood with perfect lawns, but it seems a bit ridiculous to give out fines for having grass that is a bit too long.

Day at the Field Museum

Posted on September 26th 2009 by Arthur in Chicago, Illinois, Museums

Today we spent the day at The Field Museum in Chicago. It had been a while since we had been to this excellent museum. One of the reasons we went today was to see a lecture by author Glen Chilton on his new book about Labrador Ducks. Amy wrote some more about this here.

Field Museum
Main Hall of the museum

Field Museum
Me in front of the display of T-Rex Sue

Rocky Mountain NP, 5 years ago

Posted on September 10th 2009 by Arthur in Travel

Five years ago today we were in Estes Park on our roadtrip to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. We stayed in a cottage at Tiny Town (now apparently called Trout Haven Ranch Cabins) and spent the day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Tiny Town Cottages, Estes Park CO
Tiny Town Cottages, Estes Park

Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls on Fall River Road

Stellar's Jay
A Stellar’s Jay

View from Trail Ridge Road
View from Trail Ridge Road

Alpine Visitor Center
Alpine Visitor Center

Elk seen from Alpine Visitor Center
Herd of elk seen from Alpine Visitor Center

Drop on leaf

Rocky Mountain National Park

On our drive back to Estes Park it suddenly started snowing. The sky darkened while the mountains were still illuminated from the low sun …

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Hummingbird Festival

Posted on September 3rd 2009 by Arthur in Birds

Last Saturday we visited the Hummingbird Festival at Camp Sagawau. We learned about hummingbirds, watched how they capture them for banding and we saw a bander at work. Amy posted about the event on her birding blog: I was a migrating hummingbird, Capturing fast fliers, Tools for banding a hummingbird and Hummingbird groupies.

Hummingbird banding