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Problematic Plastics: Presentation Highlights Detrimental Effects of Disposable Bags

Documentary and discussion highlight dangers to the environment and its inhabitants.

“How many use cloth bags for grocery shopping?” asked Sharon Rowe. A few people raised their hands. “How many have cloth bags and forget them in the trunk of the car?”

Rowe, CEO and Founder of ECOBAGS, a company that manufactures reusable, eco-friendly bags, smiled and nodded her head.

“Something happens to our souls when we see plastic on the street,” Rowe told the Sierra Club Lower Hudson Valley Chapter Wednesday night. “It becomes the new norm, accepted. However it’s not the norm, and people don’t want it to be the norm.”

The Greenburgh Nature Center was an apt setting for Rowe's presentation, which included “Bag It!” – a documentary that explores the effects of plastic on marine life, the environment  and human health.

“Everyman” Jeb Berrier is an average American who decides to take a closer look at our cultural love affair with plastics in a film that begins with him asking are plastic bags necessary and what are their components.

He answers his own question – “What happens when plastic bags are discarded?” by telling the audience, “They go away.” Puzzled, he then asks, “Where is away? There is no away.”

Introduced as grocery bags in the 1970s, plastic bags quickly became popular. Americans use 60,000 plastic bags every five minutes, disposable bags that they throw away without much thought.

“Bag It!” wove humor into the very serious issue of internal and external pollution. One memorial scene from “The Graduate” showed Mr. McGuire telling Benjamin, “I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics.” And Benjamin replies, “What does the ‘plastics’ refer to?”

What Berrier learns goes beyond the word - he uncovers a worldwide problem of plastics, banning, recycling and education.

Matt Wallach, the Hudson Valley program coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, discussed the .

“Any layer of using cloth bags gets you closer being there,” Rowe said. “If you use cloth bags or remember you left your bag in the car, you’ll think of it the next time you reach for something layered in plastic.”

Those confusing lines on the bottom of bottles are actually coding that reveal the percentage of chemicals and compounds in each plastic bottle. Westchester County now recycles plastics 1 through 7; more information about recycling guidelines can be found here.

Eco-Bags Products, Inc. opened for business in 1989 and introduced ECOBAGS® Brand bags at the 1990 Earth Day celebration on Sixth Avenue in New York City. 

One woman said it’s important to focus on composting since even trash can be contained in plastic bags.

“Bring your own bag, bring your bottle, bring your own coffee cup, bring your own brain,” suggested “Bag It!” Berrier went to the drive-through window of two fast-food restaurants and asked them to please put their food on his plate.

The answer was no.    

The film's overall message - “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without" - was that simplifying life will eliminate the need for environmentally-unsafe products. Berrier's presentation expressed the hope that Americans can eventually reach that goal, one cloth bag at a time.

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