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Plastic Bags and Guns
by Jan Sand
2008-02-05 09:13:15
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Back in my kidtime before I was ten years old the A&P on Sixty-Ninth Street in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn was the source of our groceries. There were some boxed goods and loose dry goods like red kidney beans and rice and coffee beans in burlap bags on the customer side of the store beneath the chain hung spring scale but much of the boxed and package products were stored on shelves that went from the floor way up to the high ceiling behind the selling counter.

Ladders on wheels could be pushed along the shelf wall to permit the several clerks to reach the goods on high shelves or, alternatively, there were long poles with trigger handles that could activate graspers on the high end to pull down the boxes and bags. Supermarkets had not yet arrived in Brooklyn and specialized stores served each type of goods. Bohacks, a few doors away was our butcher store. Frozen foods were unheard of and we had barely come into the refrigerator era with many households still buying blocks of ice for their ice boxes. There were no shopping carts but sometimes kid's red wagons helped out.

Once the goods were paid for the clerk packed them into a brown paper bag or two and we lugged them home. The store did have a delivery service but it cost extra and those were hard times so it was a luxury. There were no plastic bags.

We still eat much of the same stuff but it is packaged differently and we carry it home these days in plastic bags.

The first plastic was invented to replace ivory for pool balls back in the 1860's. Originally it had several names but it ended as celluloid and was mostly cellulose nitrate which has some disturbing characteristics. Over time it disintegrates into powder and is highly inflammable and I have heard stories that, since the material is related to gunpowder, an occasional pool ball vigorously propelled in a game actually exploded when it struck its target. But its major use was in photographic film and its high inflammability made it dangerous in movie projection under the hot projection light. It has since been replaced by safer plastic but the early movies are very vulnerable under long time storage to disappear entirely. Today the plastic still is used in ping-pong balls and guitar picks.

Plastics really took off just before WWII and I remember seeing much of the novel stuff demonstrated back in the 1939 New York World's fair. Beyond celluloid a few older plastics were ubiquitous in the early days. Rubber is probably one of the oldest and it could be made in a large range of hardness. Cellophane was made by dissolving and forming cellulose from plant material and the same material made its appearance in textiles as rayon. Bakelite was a phenol formaldehyde resin used mostly for electrical components such as plugs and automobile distributors. Also shellac, a resin obtained by mixing a resin from insects, with a filler, was used for musical discs before vinyl took over.

Although they had earlier histories, it was after WWII that plastics got into the swing of things. Nylon, acrylic, polyethylene, polystyrene, polypropylene, Teflon, silicone, butyrates, and a host of variations of these poured out of chemical factories to interpenetrate all aspects of modern life. Most were thermoplastic which meant they could be heated and formed in dies and that made them very useful.

Plastic bags were made with several of these materials but the most popular is polyethylene. In this use it is one fourth the price of the equivalent paper bag and has the added very useful quality of being waterproof and almost totally resistant to breakdown. But this last capability has become its downfall. It's low cost and convenience encouraged people to use it once and discard it and, unlike most other discarded material it does not quickly fade back into the organic resources of the planet but firmly remains a plastic bag or a fragment of a plastic bag.

There are around a trillion plastic bags produced each year and their stubborn durability has guaranteed that almost no place on the planet is untouched by their presence. The fact that they are more or less chemically inert means that they have been found in the gut of wild creatures from the poles to the tropics and thereby profoundly disturbs these animals' lives and frequently chokes and kills them. There are some places where the bags hang on power lines and perch in trees like flocks of extraterrestrial birds or slip along the streets to the will of dusty breezes.

And there is beginning to be a reaction. Australia, Bangladesh, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Taiwan, China, and the city of San Francisco have either banned or taken action to suppress the use of plastic bags as an ecological menace and an unnecessary use of imported oil.

It is interesting that such an inexpensive and useful object has become a threat to the planet because it is not being properly controlled by humans who have no sense of properly directing the resources available to them. In a striking manner, it can be regarded in the way the pro-gun people regard their weapons. Their slogan "It's not guns that kill people, it's people who kill people." Cannot be denied in the final analysis but, applied to plastic bags, you might say, "It's not plastic bags that make messes, it's people who make messes."

So, at end, it can be seen that neither guns nor plastic bags are the problem, it's people. Once we get rid of people the problem will be solved. It's only a matter of determining the method and both guns and plastic bags offer solutions. People can be killed using plastic bags but this is messy and inefficient and time consuming. A quick look at Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, The Congo, and now Kenya indicates that there is great enthusiasm for guns which can be easily utilized even by children. With a bit more effort in this direction the difficulty of solving the problem of plastic bags appears to be solvable.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-02-05 13:30:37
Great moments in history, to be broadcasted by NASA to the universe at large as a permanent record of the human existential condition, lest it be forgotten:

1957 The first baggies and sandwich bags on a roll are introduced.
1958 Poly dry cleaning bags compete with traditional brown paper.
1966 Plastic bag use in bread packaging takes over 25 to 30 percent of the market.
1966 Plastic produce bags on a roll are introduced in grocery stores.
1969 The New York City Sanitation Department's "New York City Experiment" demonstrates that plastic refuse bag kerbside pickup is cleaner, safer and quieter than metal trash can pick-up, beginning a shift to plastic can liners among consumers.
1974/75 Retailing giants such as Sears, J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, Jordan Marsh, Allied, Federated and Hills make the switch to plastic merchandise bags.
1973 The first commercial system for manufacturing plastic grocery bags becomes operational
1977 The plastic grocery bag is introduced to the supermarket industry as an alternative to paper sacks.
1982 Kroger and Safeway start to replace traditional craft sacks with polyethylene "t-shirt" bags.
1990 The first blue bag recycling program begins with kerbside collection.
1990 Consumer plastic bag recycling begins through a supermarket collection-site network.
1992 Nearly half of U.S. supermarkets have recycling available for plastic bags.
1996 Four of five grocery bags used are plastic.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-05 17:21:33
P.S. Given the latest statistics on gun possession in Finland, you Sand are situated in a very good place to contribute to a greater effort and thus solve the "difficulty of solving the problem of plastic bags" as rationally explained above. You may also consider returning to the US where help is also needed in solving the problem of plastic bags and guns.

To substantiate the above assertion, here are the empirical facts:

In Finland there are 32 privately owned firearms per 100 civilians according to the Finnish Ministry of the Interior[1][2]. By the end of 2006 there were somewhat over 1,6 million licensed firearms and spread among Finland's population of 5,3 million it comes to 30,5 per 100 people. Unlicensed firearms are estimated at around 1,5 per 100. There are some 650,000 firearms permit holders in Finland. 60% of firearm permits are issued for hunting weapons[3]. There are an estimated 290,000 handguns, which comes to 5,5 per 100 civilians[4]. Permits are not required for muzzle-loaded black powder guns made before 1890 as long as they are not used. War booty from World War 2 are thought the constitute the largest share of illegal firearms.
The widely cited Small Arms Survey 2007 by Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva Switzerland[5] incorrectly claims there are some 3 million firearms in Finland[6], or 56 per 100 civilians.

Sand2008-02-05 17:27:33
I am greatly complimented by your assumption of my powers to solve these pressing problems but like all your other fantasies they have no grounding in fact. But since you seem concerned and well placed as a prominent educator in an influential educational institution I assume you are far better placed to influence public opinion in the USA. I will keep you informed as to my progress in Finland.

AP2008-02-05 20:50:15
Finland is, nevertheless, quiet when compared to Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, The Congo or Kenya nowadays... The problem is also in weapon exportation.

AP2008-02-05 20:51:24
And the immoral economic profits it brings to developed countries.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-05 21:43:40
Indeed you do well to claim that you are incapable of solving in practice the problem according to your prescribed theorized solution devised by your mind or perhaps the visiting voices; for to solve it would mean the demise of all including yourself; unless of course you are a humbot of some kind or a Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Nietzchean Ubermensch beyond humanity and beyond good and evil...

Sand2008-02-05 21:45:42
You seem quite unsure.

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