Wondering why Indiana lawmakers would consider a bill requiring retail stores charge 10 cents for every plastic bag you use? Or why some states ban them all together? What's the big deal about plastic bags anyway?
Jeb Berrier had some of these same questions when his small town in Colorado decided to start a competition with a neighboring town to see who could decrease their use of plastic bags the most.
“I'm an average guy,” Berrier explains at the beginning of his new documentary film Bag It. “I'm not what you consider a tree-hugger. I try to be informed. I try to do the right thing. But I find that it can be a bit overwhelming at times.”
He must have felt the same way about working on this film. Because what starts out as an exploration of a small part of our grocery shopping experience — the plastic bag — takes him to Asia, the middle of the Pacific Ocean and deep inside his own body; from plastic packaging to whale guts to chemicals that shrink penis size.
On March 4, the Epworth United Methodist Church (6450 Allisonville Road, Indianapolis) will show the film as part of an eco-film double feature, along with WFYI's Lead Paint: Indiana's Poisoned Children. The event starts at 7 p.m. and is free to the public, but donations are accepted.
The statistics presented in Bag It are, alone, worth your time. 60,000 plastic bags are used in the U.S. every five seconds; 2 million plastic water bottles are used in the U.S. every five minutes; less than 25 percent are recycled; some parts of the ocean have 40 times more plastic than plankton.
But Berrier does a good job of not getting all preachy on us, and has fun, while also showing how single-use products — some of which we might use for only a few minutes — are damaging the environment throughout their entire life cycle.
The film tracks the plastic bag from its creation using fossil fuels to its journey to the North Pacific Gyre, where a waste island of plastic and other debris the size of Texas is floating in the Pacific Ocean. In one scene, a whale floats to shore and inside its stomach is 19 square feet of plastic.
And there's no easy answer. It's nice to think you're doing your part by recycling plastic, but what we find out is that much of the plastic we recycle is exported to Asia. Some of the most disturbing scenes in the film expose these “recycling” facilities, where people are sorting through piles of our plastic waste. They get on their hands and knees to sort through our trash, and what they can't use is burned. The workers are paid very little to dig through what we don't want while breathing in toxic chemicals at the same time. Think of it as another in a long line of sweatshop — this one at the end of the line, not the beginning.
In the end, whether you bring your own bags or use one plastic bag for every item you buy at the grocery store, you'll have a better understanding of why Indiana would consider charging 10 cents for a plastic bag — like in House Bill 1521. After watching this film you'll probably wonder what's taking them so long. Because ultimately, as Berrier discovers, that 10 cents a bag is a steal compared to what it's costing our planet and our health.