Forgive the headline on this post -- I'm not advocating beating up anyone. But blog reader Sam Longstreth at Brentwood Plastics Inc. in St. Louis felt a bit like he was reduced to that last week, when he wrote a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch responding to an Earth Day column written by a high school student. Liz Godar, a junior at Villa Duchesne High School and a member of the Interschool Ecological Council, wrote the April 22 column that started the debate, headlined "The plastic bag is not a harmless necessity." Here's an excerpt_
Plastic bags are more than they appear. The consequences of this oversight are severe and at this point, no longer can be ignored. Plastic bags are made largely through petroleum, increasing the United States' already overwhelming dependency on foreign oil. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United States uses about 320 billion plastic bags and sacks each year. Perhaps the worst effect is their catastrophic environmental consequences. Plastic bags account for 10 percent of the waste built up along the U.S. shoreline and kill thousands of birds and marine animals each year, from seals to turtles to dolphins. These bags break down into even more toxic petro-polymers that then work their way into our food system. Not only are billions of these soon-to-be-toxic waste bags floating around in our waterways and oceans, but they will take 500 years to disappear completely. While plastic bags are recyclable, fewer than 1 percent actually are recycled. Even so, the recycling process is extremely economically insensitive. According to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, processing and recycling a ton of plastic bags costs about $4,000, and the new recycled material will then be sold in the commodities market for a pathetic sum of $32.The column goes on to push for consumers to reject plastic bags, with praise for various communities that have passed bag taxes or bans. That didn't sit well with Longstreth, president of Brentwood Plastics, a St. Louis-based film extruder. Longstreth wrote this reply to the newspaper:
It is apparent that Villa Duchesne does not teach chemistry prior to the second semester of the junior year, otherwise it is probable that Miss Godar would not have regurgitated the pernicious nonsense she is being taught by the Interschool Ecological Council. Had she taken chemistry, Miss Godar would be able to figure out that high density polyethylene, the product that she finds so dangerous, is chemically inert. In other words, it does not react with other chemicals. That's why, if she had taken chemistry, she would know that the statement that polyethylene "bags break down into even more toxic petropolymers" cannot be defended. I hate to break this to Miss Godar at the tender age of 17, but she should not believe everything the government tells her. The San Francisco Department of Environment's price of $32 per ton for post-consumer polyethylene is so far off the mark that it makes anyone who purchases polyethylene burst into laughter. I will buy every ton Miss Godar can find at $32, I'll even pay the freight. Bans are emotionally satisfying quick answers to complex problems. But do bans work? If you ban alcohol, will people not drink? If you ban abortions, will women not get them? If you ban guns, will people not kill each other? If you ban plastic bags, will people not litter?The Post-Dispatch published Longstreth's letter today, although they toned it down a bit. Longstreth is a rare breed these days. He's a plastics industry executive willing to stick his neck out and comment, with his name attached, on a news report that he felt was unfair.