animal-plasticoIn the 1967 movie, “The Graduate”, Ben, a recent college graduate, was uncertain about his future. Mr. McGuire gave this advice to Ben: “I just want to say one word to you – just one word… Plastics.”

Ironically, this quote has been echoed by plastics’ proponents and critics alike, the former promoting the idea that polymer science was responsible for the meteoric rise in world prosperity, and the latter utilizing the quote to embody everything that is wrong and fake with society.

Certainly, as I sit here on a plastic chair typing this article on a plastic keyboard, which will be digitized by my computer’s plastic motherboard to be sent through plastic-insulated wires to a plastic dish transmitting to a plastic satellite, I must agree that Mr. McGuire articulated sage advice to Ben with the solitary word, plastics! Indeed, plastics have helped to give us the prosperity and leisure that enables us to complain about… well…plastics!

Yet, when I recall that my son contracted dengue from a mosquito that was likely born in polymeric debris in the abandoned property that neighbors our house in Mérida, my appreciation for plastics diminishes. When I recall a recent birding adventure along the Yucatán coast, where my aesthetic sense was insulted by the infestation of plastic bags clinging to the tangled roots and branches of mangrove trees, which should have been holding egrets in their stead, my enthusiasm for plastics plummets into guttural disgust.

There exists a diversity of opinions concerning how the plastic-bag problem should be attacked. Some believe the solution comes through government regulation and taxation. Governments of various sizes and political orientations, from China to France, from Singapore to San Francisco, have applied everything from taxes to outright bans on plastic bags. For example, Ireland slapped a stiff tax on plastic bags which its disciples claim reduced the use of plastic bags by 95 percent. Recently, Mexico City’s legislative assembly voted to ban non-biodegradable plastic bags in all stores.

There are critics of government regulation and taxation, claiming that governments seldom provide the solution to the problem of plastic bags in the environment. They claim that taxes and bans are unfair to the poor, that they are seldom effective. Many Yucatecans have learned the art of recycling through plastic bags. Plastic bags are used as lunch bags for kids to take to school, garbage bags for home, and containers for many uses. They point out that plastic bag substitutes could do different if not more harm to the environment. Paper bags require destruction of trees, and cloth bags require water and detergent for cleaning. In order to reduce operating expenses many stores are already encouraging a decrease in plastic bag use. Wal-Mart has announced a goal to reduce plastic bag use by one-third in Mérida’s stores by 2013.

Whatever the solution may be to plastic wastes in the environment, it is time that Yucatecans examine their responsibility for the environment, and perhaps this can start with just one word, plastics.

by Bill Drennon, Mérida Verde

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