Banning the ban bans

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!

Holy Bleeding Billboards

Of course, my first thought was that the bleeding signs were for some kind of latter-day interstate-side stigmata, but they’re not:

To remind drivers to drive carefully during the rain in Papakura, New Zealand, the local government put out a rather disturbing billboard that bleeds when it rains. The billboard may be terrifying, but apparently it’s effective: there hasn’t been a fatality since.

That first thought was a product of living in an area where people/companies/churches regularly use billboards to put up ridiculous sounding messages from G_d, i.e., “Don’t make me come down there.” Seriously. You wouldn’t believe it.

But the rain/bleeding message about driver safety… now that sounds much more promising. It might even  begin to turn people against driving so much. Sort of like if we passed a law that said we label all plastic with how long it will last, a kind of expiration date or half-life, that would give some context to the ratio of how long we use a thing vs. how long it lasts. There wouldn’t be anything scandalous about this, necessarily; it would just be contextualizing some of the matter in our lives. Like collecting all the plastic you ‘use’ over the course of a year, piling it up in your yard to get a good idea of the volume. ‘Use’ because often a plastic spoon or stirring stick (!) passes through our hands for a only a few seconds before going into the trash. We don’t even think about it. But it goes somewhere. And stays, for a very long time. A few seconds, and you know it happens all the time.

We’re all so accustomed to this flavor of mass communication, that, turned toward some of our most ridiculously wasteful habits, it might begin to make some inroads. So, there are major possibilities for this brand of outdoor shock treatment. Giant reminders of the disposable nature of the society we’ve built would make some mad, some who’d rather not be bothered – and they could blame the plastic people, like I blame the G_d people. But then maybe they would know how embarrassed those G_d signs make me feel. For us all.