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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 reusablebags.com, 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.

Fermilab’s Bison

Posted on May 27th 2009 by Amy in Environment, Illinois, Nature

Today we visited the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). Besides being home to the world’s largest particle accelerator currently in use (LHC is out of commission until at least this fall), Fermilab maintains much of their 6800 acre site with a variety of natural habitats for wildlife. This includes restored grassland prairie – once a major habitat across much of Illinois and the midwest, and former home to tens of millions of American Bison. Today, Fermilab is home to a small herd of bison.

Today over 70% of extant American Bison have been raised for human consumption. Large herds of free roaming wild bison can only be found in a few protected areas in North America, including Yellowstone National Park and Alberta’s Elk Island.

Five bison were brought to Fermilab by the first director, Robert Wilson, in 1969. In 1971 the herd increased by 21; today’s herd at the lab are descendants of those first 26 animals.
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Eager Beavers

Posted on May 17th 2009 by Amy in Birds, Environment, Forest Preserves, Nature

We went out birding with the Lake-Cook Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society this morning. We had a great time, saw lots of birds and met some really nice people.

While walking near the Des Plaines River at Ryerson Woods, we saw this tree.

Eager Beaver (1/2)

Eager Beaver (2/2)

Now that’s one eager beaver! The tree looks about ready to fall, don’t you think?

Environmental Foto Friday: Hybrid Vehicle Parking

Posted on January 23rd 2009 by Arthur in Environment, Forest Preserves, Foto Friday, Illinois

I love the Lake County Forest Preserves. They are doing such an excellent job, with 125 miles of trails, 26,800 acres of nature preserves, informative visitor centers and great facilities. We’re new residents here in Illinois’ Lake County, and with all the snow and cold weather we haven’t been able to enjoy the forest preserves so much yet these last few months. But come spring and summer I’m sure we’ll explore as many trails as we can. We’ve even got a canoe here, so we can try out some of the canoe launches.

The other day we were at Ryerson Woods Welcome Center, which is just 4 miles from where we live. The parking lot at the new Welcome Center had several parking spaces for hybrid vehicles only! Isn’t that cool? I had never seen this before. Next to the usual handicapped spaces they had some with signs that said “Hybrid Vehicles Parking”. Here’s a picture if you don’t believe me:

IMG_6191

And a close-up if you can’t read the sign:

Hybrid Vehicle Parking