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Podemos aprender a odiar os sacos plásticos?

Em 8 de novembro, os californianos votarão em um referendo que vai decidir sobre a entrada em vigor da controversa proibição dos sacos plásticos não degradáveis de uso único.

38,8 milhões de residentes podem tornar a Califórnia um vasto campo de provas para a ideia de que os americanos podem viver sem o símbolo máximo da conveniência do consumidor.

Do outro lado do país, Nova Iorque está pensando em se juntar a dezenas de outros municípios em todo o país com restrições aos sacos plásticos através da implementação de uma taxa de 5 centavos por saco de plástico ou de papel, a partir de fevereiro.

Se os legisladores da Califórnia não inviabilizarem a medida – como já fizeram em junho e esta possibilidade não está descartada – significa que quase 50 milhões de americanos poderão passar a conviver com algum tipo de proibição ou sobretaxa sobre os sacos de plástico em um futuro próximo.


Paper or plastic? We were once taught to love plastic shopping bags. Can we now learn to hate them?

Nota da FUNVERDE – Nós devemos, em respeito ao planeta e a cada ser vivo, aprender a odiar e recusar sacos plásticos de uso único e qualquer embalagem que não puder ser e não for reciclada.

Paper or save a tree?” Given the dominance of plastic shopping bags today, it’s hard to believe that 30 years ago grocery-store clerks not only needed to convince skeptical consumers to use the flimsy, newfangled sacks, but also touted them as the environmentally friendly choice. It’s even harder to wrap your mind around the notion that the people who made paper bags thought they stood a fighting chance. “We aren’t going to roll over and give up on this,” David Carleton, a spokesman for the American Paper Institute Inc., told the Miami Herald in 1983. At that point, paper supplied about 95% of the U.S. grocery bag market; by the middle of the decade, it had dropped to 75%. By the mid-’90s, plastic accounted for 80% of the market, where it remains today.

Now, the momentum might be going the other way — and away from throwaway bags made of any material. On Nov. 8, Californians will vote on a referendum that will decide whether the state’s contentious ban on single-use plastic bags will go into effect. California’s 38.8 million residents make it a vast proving ground for the idea that Americans can live without the ultimate symbol of consumer convenience. On the other side of the country, New York CIty is planning on joining dozens of other municipalities around the nation with bag restrictions by implementing a 5-cent charge for plastic and paper bags, beginning in February. If state lawmakers don’t derail the measure — they almost did in June and still haven’t ruled it out — that means that nearly 50 million Americans could be living with some kind of ban or surcharge on plastic bags in the near future.

The groundwork for plastic’s rise to world dominance was laid in more innocent times by a Swedish engineer named Sten Thulin. It was he who, upon seeing a tube of lightweight polyethylene plastic, had the idea of stamping out sections of it in a simple pattern and closing one end to make it into a bag, with “a handle (or handles)…made of one piece with the remaining bag portion and provided at its upper end with a transverse welding seam,” as the 1962 patent application put it. The drawing for the bag revealed a shape resembling a sleeveless T-shirt; hence, the industry name for the now ubiquitous item: T-shirt bag.

It was an ingenious design, although its adoption was, in hindsight, surprisingly slow. The bag first gained a small hold in Europe, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, when the oil industry got involved — polyethylene can be derived from natural gas or crude oil — that plastic grocery bags began making its presence in the American market. According to “Plastic, A Toxic Love Story,” Susan Freinkel’s 2011 history of our infatuation with the modern miracle material, executives at Mobil recognized an opportunity in Thurlin’s invention and went all in. Some of the first bags to show up in stores had patriotic red, white and blue designs in honor of the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

Plastic bags came into fashion just as the United States was starting to come to grips with the dawning cost of environmental disregard, including litter. In 1971, the nation was moved and shamed by the “Crying Indian,” a craggy-faced Native American who served as the central figure in a commercial produced by the anti-littering group Keep America Beautiful. In it, the character paddles a canoe down a pristine wilderness river that gives way to floating trash and smoke-belching factories. He hauls out on a littered shoreline, then makes his way to a nearby highway where he stands stoically as a passing driver tosses trash out the window and at his feet. As he turns to the camera, a single tear trickles down his cheek. The tagline: “People Start Pollution. People Can Stop It.”

The commercial, released on the second Earth Day, successfully brought awareness of litter to a mass audience. The irony, detailed in a 2008 article by Ginger Strand in Orion magazine, was that almost everything about it was misleading or fake. The “Indian” was an Italian-American actor, Espera Oscar de Corti, who, under the name of Iron Eyes Cody, had been playing Native Americans for four decades in Hollywood. The tear was glycerin. Most telling, perhaps, was the fact that it was the beverage industry, trying to prevent states from enacting bottle-deposit laws, that bankrolled the anti-litter campaign and put the onus on consumers to modify their behavior.

Looking at the Crying Indian ad today, one detail jumps out: There are no plastic bags. Anywhere. If the ad raised awareness about the harmfulness of littering, it failed to anticipate the increasing use of plastic, which would turn litter into a permanent blot on the planet. Compared to the number of plastic bags we find snagged on riverbanks today, the soggy newspapers seen in the Crying Indian spot seem almost quaint.

“There are a lot of things: paper cups, cutlery and other things that are problems for fish. So why the bags? Who decides the bags?”
— New York state senator Simcha Felder

When plastic bags first started appearing in American stores, shoppers needed to be educated to their value. THE SACK OF THE FUTURE IS HERE FOR YOU TODAY! was the optimistic message stamped on bags from the California-based Ralphs grocery chain. It touted the T-shirt bag’s virtues (EASIER TO CARRY, STRONGER THAN PAPER!) and suggested a hodgepodge of uses in a randomly capitalized list: Great for School Books…Ideal for beach parties or picnics…Use as a sewing or a knitting bag…Makes a great liner for small garbage cans.


GET A GRIP Shoppers at California-based Ralphs supermarkets were given easy operating instructions for the newfangled sacks. Jerid Cat via Flickr

Grocers liked them because they were much cheaper than paper — a plastic bag costs about 1 cent to produce, compared to 5 cents for paper — but their use was not intuitive. According to Freinkel, bag manufacturers actually held training sessions for supermarket baggers on how to pack the new sacks to achieve an orderly result.

Still, some people disliked the innovation. My wife, who was a preteen when plastic bags were introduced in her part of the country, recalls feeling slightly ashamed when carrying the groceries in plastic. “They just seemed trashy,” she says.

The paper manufacturers tried to leverage such sentiments in their doomed battle against plastic’s coming hegemony. Industry flacks pointed out that plastic bags flopped over in your car trunk, and could bang against your legs when you were walking. They reminded the public that paper bags are good for protecting book covers (again with the school books!) and making Halloween masks. They — along with many environmental and civic groups — made the case that plastic bags were bad for the environment.

But the environmental case wasn’t airtight: Plastic-bag manufacturers countered such claims, arguing that the widespread use of paper bags destroyed trees (hence, the grocery clerk’s entreaty to “save a tree”), created vast quantities of pollution and consumed far more energy, during the manufacturing process as well as in transport.

Americans gradually became customized to the upstart receptacle. Sure, some people continued to opt for the familiar brown paper bag, but for a steadily increasing number, the answer — as so famously foretold in Mike Nichols’ 1967 classic, “The Graduate” — was plastic. The bags, it turned out, were simply too convenient to resist.

Every morning, like the faithful son he is, New York state Sen. Simcha Felder telephones his mother. They chat about everything — her health, the weather, the family, current events or whatever may be troubling her. It was on one of these calls, a few years back when he was still serving on the New York City Council, that Mrs. Felder directed her son’s attention to what she perceived to be an injustice in the making: a plan to start making consumers pay for plastic bags in New York City.

“When this started, this discussion about the bags, she says, ‘Can you imagine? They want to do something with the plastic bags,’ ” says Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans in Albany. “When my mother says, ‘Can you imagine,’ it’s like the earth is going to open up and swallow everyone. That, to me, was like the beginning of a fire.”

The proposal that Felder’s mother was talking about, to levy a fee on single-use plastic shopping bags, was first floated by the administration of then-mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2008 to reduce litter by encouraging the use of reusable alternatives. To protest the plan, which Felder maintains places undue financial burden on ordinary New Yorkers, he staged a dramatic appearance before the Council’s Budget Committee, where he ceremoniouslyuncrinkled three different-sized plastic bags and displayed them for the committee’s edification.

“Mark Page, the budget director, who rarely smiles, let alone laughs — he laughed,” Felder recalls. “So I accomplished something.” But after the laughter subsided, Felder’s presentation turned solemn. “People are suffering,” he told the committee. “For them to be nickel-and-dimed…I don’t think it’s fair.”

skeletonBAG MAN New York state senator Simcha Felder is leading the charge to preserve plastic sacks, which he characterizes as a “tax” on the poor. Go Nakamura for New York Daily News

The Bloomberg bag fee went nowhere, and Felder and his mom may have thought they could rest easy. But now, eight years later, the issue is gaining steam. More and more cities across the country — including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Tex. — have responded to pleas from environmental groups and enacted limits on single-use bags. In May of this year, the New York City Council finally took action, passing a bill that had been grinding through the system since 2013, and began preparing for October implementation of a 5-cent fee on paper as well as plastic shopping bags, despite intense lobbying efforts by the plastic-bag industry.

“We see California as creating a spark, just like San Francisco did for local ordinances. And obviously New York City, on the Eastern Seaboard, is going to be key.”
— Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation

Felder, elected to the state Senate in 2012, found himself making a last stand against what he continues to characterize as a tax on the poor. (The measure does not meet the definition of a tax because the money would go to the retailer rather than the government; City Council is prohibited by law from levying taxes.) Perhaps with his mother’s words still echoing in his ears, Felder introduced legislation in June that would have voided the city law and prevented any municipality in the state from passing anything similar. The bill passed the Senate easily, and looked like it would swiftly reach Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk until legislative leaders agreed to delay implementation until February 2017. The backroom deal leaves the door open for the bill to be modified, weakened or blocked outright, depending on which way the political winds blow after November.

Felder casts the issue as a straightforward battle between common folk and elites, another example of lawmakers interfering with people’s personal choices to discourage behaviors deemed harmful to them. Such so-called “nanny state” measures were a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration, which imposed steep surcharges on tobacco products, outlawed the use of transfats by restaurants and, unsuccessfully, sought to limit the sale of sugary beverages and charge a “congestion fee” for motorists who drive into parts of Manhattan. “I really despise government intervening with people’s lives unless there’s an extraordinary, compelling reason,” Felder says. “There are certain comforts that no matter how little you have financially, you (still) have. You go to the grocery and you get a bag. People struggle, they have a hard time surviving. A bag makes people’s lives easier, no one would question that.

“One has to figure out,” he continues, “why in the world did the City Council decide bags were the things? Why did they choose this and nothing else? There are a lot of other things: paper cups, cutlery and other things that, by far — it’s not even close — are problems for fish, for turtles, for other things. So why the bags? Who decides the bags?”

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND In “American Beauty,” a swirling plastic bag serves as a metaphor for the bereft American soul. Or something.

Today, plastic bags fly out of stores around the world by the trillions every year. They serve a fleeting purpose, and sometimes they are recycled or reused — or, as in households everywhere, stuffed by the dozen under the kitchen sink. But they are often discarded carelessly. Uniquely aerodynamic because of their lightweight and air-catching design, they blow out of garbage cans, sanitation trucks and landfills and easily reach streams, rivers and, eventually, oceans. They flutter from trees, bushes and fences, sad banners of our planet’s wasteful culture. In the 1999 film “American Beauty,” an end-of-the-millennium lamentation on suburban alienation and angst, a sensitive teen uses video footage of a windblown plastic bag in a bid to win the affections of a girl. The aimless sack makes a return as the movie ends, a metaphor for the bereft American soul (or something like that).

A decade later, Ramin Bahrani’s film “Plastic Bag” gives another windblown bag a human voice. Not just any voice, either, but that of Werner Herzog, the eccentric German director. The 18-minute short delivers a fairly pedestrian message — plastic bags are essentially indestructible and end up getting blown into the ocean, which is bad — but Herzog’s musing narration in his distinct near-monotone lends the message a particularly surreal edge.

Plastic bag de Ramin Bahrani from Cortos Sabrosos on Vimeo.

The bag falls in love with his “maker,” who obtains him at the store and later fills him with ice to soothe a sports injury (he really digs that) before she deploys him to pick up dog-doo and discards him without a backward glance. He finds fleeting love with another wayward bag before he ends up permanently snagged on a coral reef, lamenting the eternal purgatory to which he’s condemned.

The bizarre movie illustrates the qualities that make plastic bags particularly troublesome for so many activists. Bags in the water resemble jellyfish and squid, and endanger sea turtles and other marine animals that mistake them for food. One sperm whale found floating dead in the Aegean Sea had a stomach full of plastic debris that included about 100 bags, one of which was imprinted with the address and phone number of a restaurant in Thessaloniki, Greece, some 300 miles away.

Plastic bags clog storm drains and sewage-treatment plants. They drift down city streets and suburban subdivisions. And they never really disappear; eventually, they break into tiny pieces, becoming part of the plastic masses swirling through our oceans, which have now been detected all the way to the South Pole. Each year, as much as 12 million metric tons of plastic — of which bags represent about 2% — washes out to sea. We don’t even know where 99% of it ends up.

SEA CHANGE Each year, 12 million metric tons of plastic wash out to our oceans; plastic bags account for roughly 2% of this flotsam mass. Greenpeace

Average consumers have no way of limiting the amount of industrial-scale plastic pollution but they can control their own use of plastic bags. The problem is, they don’t. Americans use approximately 100 billion plastic shopping bags per year (that number doesn’t include other types of plastic bags), and researchers estimate that as many as 50 million of those end up as litter. On average, a bag’s useful life lasts only 20 minutes. The omnipresence of these bags in daily life has put them in the crosshairs of environmental groups since the early 2000s and, as such, have become the obvious place to begin changing the way we use and think about plastic.

“Plastic bags are this ubiquitous consumer item, because they’re just given away for free at the checkout, and people don’t think of them,” says Angela Howe, legal director of the California-based Surfrider Foundation, a coastal advocacy group that has been a major force pushing for anti-bag legislation. Howe makes the case that plastic bags are the perfect place to start changing overall consumer dependence on plastic. “All plastic is bad for the ocean, but plastic bags are something that we all know and deal with every day. And there is such an easy alternative, a reusable alternative. We need to start thinking about our consumer behaviors and how to change them, and this is potentially the easiest change that everyone can make and can start thinking about.”

Banning single-use plastic bags, or making people pay a per-bag surcharge to discourage their use, is an idea that has gained traction worldwide. China and Bangladesh have nationwide bans in place, as do states and provinces in other countries; in Rwanda, the policy is so strict that they search your luggage for plastic bags when you come into the country, resulting in significantly cleaner streets. The laws are not always effective — enforcement can be spotty — but when they work, the results are unequivocal: In Ireland, which put a 15-cent fee on plastic bags in 2002, the government estimated a 90% reduction in their use in the first year.

California, as is often the case in environmental issues, has led the nation with its anti–plastic-bag policies. San Francisco was the first U.S. city to pass a ban, in 2007, and some 138 municipalities and counties across the Golden State, including Los Angeles and San Jose, followed suit. Then, in 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation banning plastic bags statewide. “We’re the first to ban these bags,” Brown said at the time. “And we won’t be the last.”

In Suffolk County, N.Y., lawmakers hope to see plastic-bag use reduced by as much as 70% in 2018, when a 5-cent plastic bag surcharge is slated to take effect. The eastern Long Island county would be the fifth jurisdiction in the state (after three Westchester towns and New York City) to take action, although it would be voided if Senator Felder’s legislation ever makes it through the legislative process.

skeletonPLASTIC PEOPLE A resident of Long Beach, NY, covered himself in plastic sacks (representing the average number an individual uses annually) at a city council meeting to illustrate their environmental impact. Ben Strack/Herald

In most of the United States, however, efforts to ban or charge for single-use plastic bags have been relatively rare, in part thanks to vigorous lobbying efforts by the industry’s advocacy organization, the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA). The group has done everything from creating an anthropomorphic bag character that wants you to know that plastic bags can be recycled, to pumping $3.2 million into an effort to get a statewide referendum on the ballot in California to veto the ban, which has been in limbo since Gov. Brown signed the bill in 2014.

Plastic-bag advocates have deftly exploited the politics of individual states to prevent or delay bag bans. Florida and Indiana have passed laws preventing any county, city or town from enacting bag bans or fees. In Dallas, lobbying efforts and public outcry led to the reversal of that city’s 5-cent fee only a few months after it went into effect, and challenges to other Texas anti-bag legislation are currently before the state’s higher courts. Lawmakers in Michigan recently introduced legislation that will bar cities from banning or taxing plastic bags. The bill has passed the Senate and will now be taken up by the House.

Environmentalists, however, see the potential for momentum to shift if the California ban is upheld in November. “I really think we see California as creating a spark, just like San Francisco did for local ordinances,” says Howe of the Surfrider Foundation. “And obviously New York City, on the Eastern Seaboard, is going to be key.”

NYC’s 8.5 million residents use more than 9 billion plastic bags each year, and those featherweight sacks add up: They account for an astonishing 1,700 tons of residential garbage each week, according to estimates from the city’s sanitation department. Only a small fraction of the total are recycled, although larger stores are required to offer bins where shoppers can return the bags.

A plastic-bag fee in New York would be a serious trophy for the anti-bag crew. That’s why the APBA has lobbied so hard in the city, joining forces with a handful of unions and community groups and creating a slick website to dispel what it calls myths about the plastic bag.

skeletonSTUFF IT! Lobbyists for the beleaguered plastic bag want you to know that sacks have feelings too. Plastics Industry Trade Association

It looked like the lobbyists had lost the battle in May of this year when, after protracted debate and multiple revisions, the City Council passed its long-simmering bag bill. It places a 5-cent fee on both paper and plastic single-use bags, half of the originally proposed 10 cents. Consumers receiving governmental nutritional assistance would be exempted, as would restaurants, street vendors and pharmacies dispensing medication. The plan calls for distribution of thousands of free reusable bags to the general public.

Felder’s core message about nickel-and-diming working people, heartfelt though it may be, is drawn straight from the playbook of the APBA. The organization frequently paints bag fees as a regressive tax, and the anti-bag forces as elitists who are impractical, if not disingenuous and, in any case, out of touch with the concerns of everyday Americans. The trade organization delivers that message loudly and often in communities that are talking about bag restrictions, including in NYC, where, according to advocates for the bag charge, they were extremely active in talking to legislators.

“When a city debates the topic, we do want to go to public officials and talk to them and help to set the record straight,” says Phil Rozenski of the APBA. Among the arguments the lobbyist offers in opposition to a ban or surcharge on plastic bags: Plastic bags are an insignificant part of the litter stream. People don’t wash reusable bags enough, which can harbor potentially dangerous bacteria. Plastic-bag companies employ people. Charging for plastic bags disproportionately affects poor people.

The latter argument, of course, is Felder’s main opposition to what he calls the bag “tax.” State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, debated him for more than an hour on the Senate floor. Krueger doesn’t buy the idea that people are deeply attached to the “comfort” of free plastic bags. “I don’t want to speak for low-income people,” she says. “But I worked on low-income issues for 20 years in low-income communities of New York (City). I could make a very long list of creature comforts the poor of New York are in need of and articulate about. I never heard anyone put on their list the comfort of the plastic bag.”

“I could make a very long list of creature comforts the poor of New York are in need of and articulate about. I never heard anyone put on their list the comfort of the plastic bag.”
— New York state senator Liz Krueger

Supporters of the bag fee are warily hoping that, come February, the largest city in the United States will finally start doing something about its 9-billion-a-year bag habit. “It has certainly been far harder than I expected it to be,” says Councilman Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the bill. “While I knew there would be some resistance, I have definitely been surprised at how strong the opposition is. I think New Yorkers are just passionate people. I don’t know.”

For his part, Felder won’t rule out yet another end run around the bag fee before the February implementation date, a move that would be more likely to succeed if the Republicans retain control of the state’s legislature in November. “I think that as it gets closer — at the end of December, beginning of the new year — we are going to get more elected officials involved in petitions,” he says. “There will be hearings. I like making trouble, and this is for me a good excuse. I want to make sure that the mayor and the City Council don’t feel lonely — that they’re the only ones who could come up with something sly. I want to keep them company. I want to come up with something interesting.”

Plastic-bag manufacturers like to think of Americans as being incorrigibly attached to the convenience of the disposable plastic bag. The APBA’s Rozenski keeps coming back to it: People, he says, are either supportive of environmentally sustainable practices such as reusing their own bags, or not. And they’re not going to change. “What we are finding out when it comes to these products is that some people are 100% focused on it,” he says. Many more, however, only bother to bring a reusable bag a small percentage of the time. “The vast majority of people never use reusable bags enough in their life cycle to get the efficiency out of it.”

But a less convenient truth for bag manufacturers is that people’s behavior can be changed. People were taught to love plastic bags; they could almost certainly be taught to hate them. “When they’ve implemented (bag legislation) in other American cities with a similar model, there’s a 70% change in behavior,” Sen. Krueger says. “When you get people to grasp why it’s a win-win not to use plastic bags — a win for the environment, a win for your pocketbook — and just not that big a deal to change your behavior, you can do so in a very short time frame.”

For both sides of the bag debate, the legislation in New York and California represents a turning point, a potential to permanently influence the way tens of millions of people carry goods home from the store. “I think the dominoes are going to fall either way,” says Howe of the Surfrider Foundation. “We’re coming from generations of this consumer throwaway culture. We are just realizing we can’t do that anymore. Our landfills are filling up, our ocean is filling up with plastic. We have to make that change. Once people start understanding there’s a consequence for where these products go after they’re in your hands for 10 minutes, we’ll get people thinking more about how to consume and how to live more sustainably.”

The war on bags

If voters uphold the California ban at referendum in November and the New York City bag fee goes through as scheduled in February, 13 of the 50 most populous cities in the United States will have some form of restriction, in the form of bans and/or charges, on single-use bags:

City, population
New York City, 8,550,405
Los Angeles, 3,971,883
San Diego, 1,394,928
San Jose, 1,026,908Austin, 931,830
San Francisco, 864,816
Seattle, 684,451
Washington, D.C., 672,228
Portland, Ore., 632,309
Fresno, Calif., 520,052
Sacramento, 490,712
Long Beach, Calif., 474,140
Oakland, 419,267
Sources: Earth Policy Institute, Surfrider Foundation, U.S. Census Bureau

Fonte: Sarah GoodyearDailyNews

Boletim do Instituto IDEAIS  de 24 de outubro de 2016

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