Sunday, September 30, 2007

100 Billion a Year

So now that we in the U.S. have talked about conservation for decades, now that we've gotten concerned about at least the probability (or certainty?) of human-generated global warming, now that Al Gore and "Live Earth" and other people and events have called our attention to environmental issues, now that even churches have gotten much more "green," guess what?

By itself, this country continues to go through an estimated 100 billion plastic bags (in the north) or sacks (in the south) every year. Said 100 billion bags require 12 million barrels of oil for production. And, no, they're not biodegradable. They'll be around for a long, long time.

Now, to get your mind wrapped around the figure 100 billion, consider: one billion seconds ago it was 1959. One billion minutes ago Jesus was walking around in Galilee.

But we're not talking about one billion. We're talking about 100 billion plastic bags. Every year. (I don't know the relative merit that paper might have over plastic, but doesn't it seem like paper would eventually return to the earth from whence it came?).

So why don't Americans take reusable bags or crates to the grocery stores? Writing in today's New York Times, Peter Applebome puts it succinctly: "the lesson for now pretty much seems to be that no matter how piddly the effort, no matter how small the bother, well, it's too much bother."

Applebome concludes: "Plastic bags are a small part of the picture. (sport utility vehicles, McMansions, long commutes anyone?) But you think, if we can't change our behavior to deal with this one, we can't change our behavior to deal with anything."

So what's it going to take for Americans to start doing what we should have been doing for a long time?

Source: Peter Applebome, "Human Behavior, the Politics of Global Warming and the Ubiquitous Plastic Sack," New York Times (Sunday, September 30, 2007) p. A28


john dobbs said...

Frank, it's an excellent point ... I need to be more aware of this myself. The other day I asked for my groceries to be put in paper bags. The clueless young lady looked at me and said, "we haven't been trained for that." I said, "I'll show you."

Anyway ... this is one tide that seems impossible to turn. Why isn't there a bigger Christian voice on the matter? I think Al Gore has garnered more jeers than generated information.

john dobbs said...

No other comments huh? Hmm... I've been thinking about this post all day.

Frank Bellizzi said...

John, you asked about the "Christian voice on this matter." Let's do what we can. Years ago, I decided that in my preaching ministry, I'd give one Sunday per year to this matter.

Two resources I returned to time and time again are:

1. Elizabeth Achtemeier, "Nature, God and Pulpit" (Erdmans, 1992).

2. Stan Lequire (editor), "The Best Preaching on Earth: Sermons on Caring for Creation" (Judson Press, 1996). This collection includes a beautiful sermon by John Stott and another great one by Ron Sider.

Of course, there are many other great resources. But these are the ones I know.

Arlene Kasselman said...

South AFrican grocery stores have been charging for plastic grocery sacks for years now. It is amazing to me that when we go home to visit we just instantly get in the habit of taking a shopping bag with us. Not so here. I have recently started taking cloth bags with me and asking them to bag my stuff in my own cloth bags. Usually they look at me like I have lost my mind!

bbeth said...

Okay, you have made me feel guilty. I do have several crochet patterns which use plastic bags. You can cut them up into strips and crochet them into rugs for your kitchen or carport area or make a beach bag. I guess I need to get busy and crochet some bags together into a rug...
If anyone is interested, you can search for a crochet pattern on-line and will probably find one for crocheted rugs made from plastic grocery bags. Here is a site that has several patterns for using those pesty, plastic bags along with pictures of finished projects.


Bonnie Anderson

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

You will be happy to know that when we go shopping (nearly always at Trader Joe's) we bring our own paper bags.

A lot of folks for some reason have no clue that plastic comes from "oil." We do not simply depend on the Persian Gulf for our "gas" but for our TVs, tires, CD cases and nearly everything else these days ...

Bobby Valentine

john dobbs said...

In talking about this with others, I have learned that some grocery stores in Florida (and elsewhere?) provide a mesh type bag that you can bring back next time. I live two blocks from our grocery store...I could get a big tote bag or two and always carry my own with no trouble. I'm going to resolve to do that.

Thanks for the info and inspiration, Frank. And the resources. I'm going to see where those are available.

Deb said...

tkaqiiHere, unless it looks obvious you need help the shopper bags their own groceries. When I left the States several years ago, the discount grocery stores converted to that. On my first few trips for groceries over here, it took me awhile to get used to the speed the products were coming at me, and all the Brits were way quicker and organised. I used to get a few chuckles at some of my first attempts!

We can use plastic bags, but most stores encourage you to use their more permanent shopping bags, which we now have a healthy supply of, meaning we have more than we need. At first I developed a fetish for them because I thought they were so cool, and had to 'collect' a few from each store because they were so different (some make great stocking stuffers for the folks at home in the US). Plus, I don't want to take a Waitrose bag into a Sainsbury's to bag the groceries I buy from there.

At most grocery store chains there are incentives given to NOT use the plastic bags. Our council issued last year to every home giant black and green bins and lidded boxes for weekly collection. Each week we alternate -- it took awhile to get used to it, but now it goes very smoothly. If it can be done here, it can be done in the US. It just takes a bit to retrain.

Wade Tannehill said...

Great post! I find that whenever I've preached on environmental ethics that some church members have such a thoroughly "otherworldly" view of Christianity that they don’t see the point. The argument goes that since the world is going to burn up anyway and since everything is put here for our using, what's the big deal? I've been confronted with that attitude many times. We need to learn that dominion over the earth means responsible management.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Exactly, Wade.

I believe that lessons about the goodness of Creation (Genesis 1) and the cosmic scope of God's redemptive purposes (Romans 8) could go a long way in helping to eliminate this terrible misunderstanding.

Most people already have some sort of appreciation for nature. They might be relieved and glad to hear that such joy isn't profane or secular. (I know, it's sad to think that some of the Lord's have been taught otherwise).

Too, we have passages (Creation Psalms) and songs that can wake up these thoughts and feelings. "This is My Father's World" functions a lot like Psalm 19, linking the God of Creation to the God of Covenant.

Any other suggestions?

millerjmike said...

I have never really understood the mass indifference of believers on this matter, maybe because I was raised by a professional conservationist. I think the best place to teach environmental responsibility is at our Christian camps. How many thousands of kids go off to spend at least a week in the beauty of nature and never hear a lesson about this? A blown opportunity if you ask me.

Frank Bellizzi said...


Your indictment is painfully on-target. What a great suggestion! Teach about Creation at camp.