Down East 2013 ©
Allow me to offer a few words in defense of the humble plastic bag. This much-maligned, petroleum-derived item has lately been the subject of an effort in Windham to outlaw its use .
The Town Council, at the urging of a middle school student, passed a resolution asking the Maine Legislature to consider a statewide ban on plastic bags, with penalties for possession ranging from public heckling for a first offense to expulsion to New Hampshire for multiple convictions.
Even though I made that last part up, the effort to prohibit the use of plastic has generated opposition from several constituencies. Drug dealers, for instance, are concerned that if this movement spreads, they’ll have no reliable packaging for their merchandise. As one dope peddler told me, “If I’m going to face prosecution for offering my products in plastic, I’ll have to rethink my entire choice of occupation.”
But perhaps the strongest support for plastic came from people like me: dog owners. Statistics that I haven’t bothered to look up indicate that of all the plastic bags used in the United States each year, more than sixty-two percent are recycled for picking up dog poop. In my household alone, we go through an average of 2,190 bags each year (three dogs, two dumps a day). If plastic became contraband, I suppose we could attempt to persuade homeowners along the route of our daily walks that the environmentally prudent attitude toward the freshly deposited steaming pile on their front lawn would be to leave it there to decay into fertilizer. But I have my doubts about the extent to which their eco-consciousness – not to mention their gullibility – would allow them to buy into that argument.
Of course, there are readily available alternatives to plastic for removing dog doo. There are all manner of scoops available on the market, although they have to be cleaned out when you get home, unlike the bags that can be tossed in the trash for archeologists in the year 2238 A.D. to discover.
Back in the 1980s when Portland first passed an ordinance requiring dog owners to clean up after their pets, it mandated that they carry a “device” for removing the waste whenever they were in public with their pets. That provision was challenged by David “The Dogman” Koplow , a local eccentric with a pack of seven or eight mongrels. Charged with being device-deficient, Koplow represented himself in court, where he asserted that almost anything met the legal definition of an item suitable for canine crap pick-up. Among his suggestions to the court: Use your hands, or, perhaps, two credit cards.
I doubt either of those alternatives will catch on with significant portions of the dog-walking public. What’s more likely to occur is that if plastic bags are outlawed, only outlaws will have plastic bags. They’ll walk the streets of Windham and other anti-bag municipalities wearing t-shirts with the defiant slogan, “You Can Have My Plastic When You Pry It Out Of My Cold, Dead – And Unsullied – Hands.”
Elected officials considering this type of infringement on our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms (Article Nine, Section Three, Baggage Locker 1287) should keep in mind that a bag filled with even a single dog deposit makes a very nasty weapon. If it’s a fight you eco-freaks want, we’re more than ready.
As I stand here on guard duty outside our fortress of defiance (constructed mainly of wood-plastic composites made from recycled bags), I sometimes gaze at the night sky. In particular, I like to look at a carbonaceous asteroid orbiting somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, roughly a zillion miles from Earth. It’s estimated by prominent scientists I have mostly made up that if this object could be converted to plastic bags, it would supply all the dog walkers on this planet for a thousand years. That’s assuming the Blakely family get their Bernese mountain dog to a vet this week to have his digestive tract issues cleared up. Otherwise, that asteroid is going to last less than three hundred years.
But not everyone would welcome the conversion of this seemingly inconsequential bit of space debris into useful products. That’s because this particular orbiting object was recently named  after an assistant professor of physics at the University of Southern Maine. That’s right, the asteroid 7909 Ziffer has been named by the International Astronomical Union for Julie 7909.
Oops, sorry, Her name is actually Julie Ziffer. The number denotes that it was the 7,909th asteroid discovered. Ziffer, who earned the designation because of a paper she published on her theory about how all Earth’s water may have hitchhiked here on asteroids, also received an all-expense-paid vacation on her namesake, although she’ll have to cover he own transportation costs and provide her own gravity.
Finally, I was walking into my local country store to buy beer (“Could you put each bottle in a separate plastic bag”) when I noticed pile of one of those free tourist magazines on the counter. I usually ignore these publications because I’m not a tourist and I don’t need to know when the Fourth Annual Arts, Crafts and Plastic Bag Reuse Festival is being held. But in this case, I picked up a copy because I was intrigued by the name.
It was called West Coast Maine .
I couldn’t find any explanation for that “Coast” thing in print or online, but it did make me wonder if I’d missed an ocean somewhere in my immediate neighborhood. I know I’m not the most observant person, but still, you’d think the crashing of waves or the stench of dead pogies would tip me off.
But after reading a few pages, I’m pretty sure the publisher is just fantasizing. That’s certainly the case with some of the article, such as one that describes Carrabassett Valley by saying, “This attractive town is filled with bungalow style houses reminiscent of old fairytale villages.”
I don’t know what you’ve got in that plastic bag you keep huffing. But you ought to consider switching to paper.
Al Diamon wrote this posting on a plastic computer while sitting in a plastic chair and drinking from a plastic bottle. When the useful life of these products is done, he intends to recycle them, as well as several of the jokes used above. He can be emailed at email@example.com .