Saturday, October 16, 2010

Save sea turtles, stop using plastic

When it comes to environmental issues, I have always considered myself concerned and aware — but I also find it easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems.

Put more bluntly, when you think the Earth is on course to an ugly Soylent-Green style end, it's hard to believe that individual choices you make really matter that much one way or the other.

Take plastic bags. I always knew they were kind of bad, but I still accepted groceries in plastic bags, and I thought it was morally acceptable because I reused the bags. (Mainly I reused them to pick up my dog's poop — city ordinance and all. And sometimes when packing for trips I wrapped up my shampoo bottles and such in plastic bags.)

Recently, however, I came across some details that made me think twice. I'm going to St. Lucia for vacation in a few months, so I read almost every post published on TripAdvisor's St. Lucia travel forum. A few weeks ago, another member posted an item urging tourists not to bring plastic bags and bottles to St. Lucia, among other recommendations.

"Turtles eat plastic bags as they think they're jellyfish, and feed them to their young," her post reads in part. "This kills them."

I don't litter, but even the remote possibility that a bag I had used could hurt a turtle made me swear off plastic bags forever, even here at home. (Yes, we do have sea turtles in Massachusetts, as well as many other animals that could mistakenly ingest plastic waste.) Even if you think that you're being careful and properly disposing of your plastic bags, you still might be part of the problem, as plastic bags blow out of trash cans and other waste-collection areas very easily because they are so aerodynamic, as I read recently in an illuminating article on

For my groceries, I now carry reusable bags from Whole Foods and Shaw's. (Whole Foods even gives you a 5 cent discount each time you bring a bag back in to refill.) For my dog's poop, I now use biodegradable, flushable bags that I order from With this method, the dog's poop ends up going through the same wastewater treatment process as human poop. Because of that, this method is better than some of the other biodegradable poop bags you see on the market. Another reason the flushable bags are better than non-flushable biodegradable bags is that the latter most likely will not biodegrade in landfills, because the waste is packed too tightly there.

For my travel needs, from now on I'll just make sure I have plenty of travel pouches intended for just that purpose. I tried to do this in the past, but I sometimes resorted to plastic when I was too disorganized to have enough "real," reusable bags on hand — but that stops now!

These are small steps, but I'm so glad I came across that TripAdvisor post. When you actually learn how your actions can have identifiable positive consequences, it makes it easier to be responsible and perhaps stay one step ahead of that barren, cannibal-wafer future which is probably looming.

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Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.