Monday, April 26, 2010

The Vickie Johnson Challenge

This Week's newspaper column - read it in the Hattiesburg American:

Plastic shopping bags are everywhere.

Once I came home from the grocery store only to realize that my lonely two items had been packaged in three bags. I’m not kidding.

Most of those plastic bags get discarded and are immediately carted off to landfills. The vast majority of bags that do not make it to the dump wind up lying on the side of the road, floating in bodies of water, or blowin’ in the wind (apologies to Bob Dylan) as litter.

What about recycling? Many stores and municipalities are starting to offer plastic bag recycling bins, but according to the Worldwatch Institute, of the 100 billion plastic shopping bags Americans throw away each year, less than 1 percent of them are recycled into second-generation products such as building materials or more plastic bags.

The times, they are a-changin’, but for now, what’s a sustainable citizen to do?
One earth-friendly solution comes in the form of the reusable shopping bag. Usually made of some natural cotton or hemp fiber, or of a more durable (and generally recyclable) plastic, these “bags for life” can reduce an individual’s consumption by several hundred bags a year.

Last week I judged an Earth Day Eco-Art show where the winning artist, Meredith Kresge, wove plastic shopping bags – hundreds of them - into one bushel-sized satchel. Not only was the finished piece a beautifully crafted work of art, this collection of would-be trash gained new life as a sturdy all-purpose carry-all proving that the imagination is the only limitation to creative reuse.

If you want to see a smile, take several bags of bags to the farmers’ market and hand them out to the venders. I’ve yet to find anyone less than enthusiastic about taking them. Every bag reused is one that needs not be manufactured or purchased.
And lately, my wife Vickie Johnson started taking along an extra bag when we walk our dog Frank, and she fills it up with litter. Yes, those trash-filled bags do make their way to the landfill, but in the process, the neighborhood stays cleaner making our walks that much more pleasant.

Too many times, the attitude about litter is “I didn’t put it there, so I’m not picking it up.” To that, Vickie’s attitude is ‘who cares, it needs to be picked up.’
So I hereby issue the Vickie Johnson Challenge. Whenever you take a walk around your neighborhood or workplace, grab a plastic shopping bag and fill it up with trash along the way. If everyone, including me, made this a common practice, the world we inhabit would be a much cleaner place.

Lest you think picking up trash is beneath you, Vickie holds a Ph.D. and she doesn’t get hung up on the idea, she just does it.

And the benefit (in addition to flexibility gained by the extra stretching): a cleaner, greener environment for all to enjoy.

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