In 2006, I visited a friend in France on the occasion of his 50th birthday. His girlfriend had purchased a painting from a friend in the states and I recklessly volunteered to hand delivery the gift. Much merriment on a short, extravagant trip ensued. I had been to France several times by then so the merriment included a souvenir shopping spree at the local supermarket in _____: wine, pate, chocolate and of course, our beloved cassoulet. Only the best for my girl.
But after I paid for the items, I reached down under the checkout counter to get a plastic bag for my prizes and… there weren’t any. Did I mention it was 2006?
Last November, California voters passed Proposition 67, upholding a ban on single-use plastic bags passed by the state’s lawmakers in 2014. A year later, preliminary data from thousands of volunteers who collected trash during California’s Coastal Cleanup Day in September appears to show a remarkable drop in plastic bag refuse.
Compared to 2010, plastic bag litter has dropped by around 72 percent. Plastic bags now account for less than 1.5 percent of all litter, rather than nearly 10 percent. In Monterey County south of San Francisco, volunteers found only 43 plastic bags during the clean-up, compared to just under 2,500 in 2010.
The coastal cleanup, which covered some 1,800 miles across the state, had already shown a significant decrease in plastic bags thanks to educational efforts and local bans, and 2017 builds on that trend. In 2010, plastic bags came in third behind cigarette butts and fast food packaging as most frequently littered items, according to data from Coastal Cleanup Day. Now they appear to have fallen out of the top ten most littered items.
“For decades, plastic bags were one of the most common items collected during the annual California coastal cleanup,” said John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, in a statement regarding the news. “This year, as California continues to transition to reusable bags, we are seeing a substantial decline in plastic grocery bag litter on beaches, rivers and parkways.”
As the article also documents, the rise of plastic bag bans in localities across the country has led to an commensurate rise in bans on plastic bags bans. Pre-emptive war against positive environmental trends and we are [still] so terribly petty and stupid. But good for California and its beaches. Reminds me of love notes, ibuprofen and white vinegar: stuff that actually works!
For a long time, I’ve thought that living in Republican-dominated states, especially in the South, was a form of being on the front lines – of racism, of anti-union sentiment, of hostility to immigrants and civil rights broadly construed. Even the lesser evils of being among people who feel over-taxed, persecuted for their (in every sense dominant) religious beliefs, sub-par infrastructure (no mass transit and the promotion of personal automobiles as priority transportation concerns) and general discomfort with the world as more people deservedly take their places in it, you are confronted with this it all up close. You know what it’s like and grow accustomed to fear and self-loathing as it leaks out everywhere among the shiny automobiles and neat, though increasingly sad [and appropriately named] subdivisions. After not too long, you begin to sense among the dominant political persuasion an uneasiness that borders on paranoia. The lack of confidence about the way things are going, despite the fact that they are in charge, is unmistakable and results in all kinds of frantic attempts to standardize and codify the fear. But it’s not normal and doesn’t sell easily. It’s not inevitable that these attempts fail, but often enough, people seek allies and gain them in the smallest way. Smiles and nods turn to conversations and simple shared affinities on this side of the line. You have every opportunity to reinforce your own convictions and/or assure others, in any way you choose. And to choose not to. You can also nod along, turn attention to more temporal concerns. Get along. Move along.
The new administration is simply this dynamic writ large; the anti-everything good and decent now has an official imprimatur that is the rushing the worst people and measures out front with great haste and uncut distrust. But the unease is the same, if broader. They know they are somehow on the wrong side, hence the anger and lack of confidence.
For this side, people have discovered the streets again. Attention has been gained by atrocious indecency, a willingness to loot not just the treasury but the national moral character itself. We don’t have laws against this stuff, to stop those depraved enough to endanger everyone. And again, it’s not inevitable that the nominal Our party will be able to seize the moments and string them together into a coherent future direction, foment the positive and give people in the streets a reason to overwhelm the polls when it comes time again.
But we’re all on the front lines now, and we have been for a while though not everyone is fighting, yet.