Bear Paper Bag Puppet

Thursday, March 5th 2020. | Sample Templates

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Corporations tried to blame you for the plastic crisis. Now states are turning the tables.

If you’ve ever tossed a plastic water bottle in a trash can and felt a wave of guilt wash over you, well, judging by its marketing campaigns, that’s exactly how the packaging industry planned it. Corporations tried to blame you for the plastic crisis. Now states are turning the tables.

If you’ve ever tossed a plastic water bottle in a trash can and felt a wave of guilt wash over you, well, judging by its marketing campaigns, that’s exactly how the packaging industry planned it. Consider this recent public service announcement, where two uncanny squirrel puppets sit in a tree, watching passerby on the sidewalk and cheering when they put plastic bottles in the recycling bin. A man nearly throws a bottle in the trash (gasp!), but at the last moment, puts it away in his bag to “recycle later.” “Way to go, Mr. Brown Shoes!” one squirrel says. Then a message pops up on the screen: “Recycle your bottles like everyone’s watching.” Consider this recent public service announcement, where two uncanny squirrel puppets sit in a tree, watching passerby on the sidewalk and cheering when they put plastic bottles in the recycling bin. A man nearly throws a bottle in the trash (gasp!), but at the last moment, puts it away in his bag to “recycle later.” “Way to go, Mr. Brown Shoes!” one squirrel says. Then a message pops up on the screen: “Recycle your bottles like everyone’s watching.” This ad is from Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit backed by big corporations (think Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Nestlé) that’s been delivering versions of that message for more than half a century. The focus has been on the litterbugs who tossed garbage on the ground, rather than on the companies manufacturing all that trash-to-be to begin with. This ad is from Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit backed by big corporations (think Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Nestlé) that’s been delivering versions of that message for more than half a century. The focus has been on the litterbugs who tossed garbage on the ground, rather than on the companies manufacturing all that trash-to-be to begin with. Countless mountains of plastic waste later, the tide is turning. There’s growing momentum behind the idea that companies should be held responsible for the waste they produce, instead of taxpayers. This summer, Maine and Oregon became the first states to pass laws making producers pay fees for this packaging. The resulting programs could reinvigorate recycling systems, often scaled back when cities look for ways to save money, and prompt big companies to come up with cleaner alternatives. Countless mountains of plastic waste later, the tide is turning. There’s growing momentum behind the idea that companies should be held responsible for the waste they produce, instead of taxpayers. This summer, Maine and Oregon became the first states to pass laws making producers pay fees for this packaging. The resulting programs could reinvigorate recycling systems, often scaled back when cities look for ways to save money, and prompt big companies to come up with cleaner alternatives. “This idea that these states are trying to shift that narrative into some other form of responsibility to make the producer pay, I think is really exciting and important as a development,” said Finis Dunaway, a professor of history at Trent University in Canada. “This idea that these states are trying to shift that narrative into some other form of responsibility to make the producer pay, I think is really exciting and important as a development,” said Finis Dunaway, a professor of history at Trent University in Canada. The Maine law, signed by Democratic Governor Janet Mills in July, requires producers to cover 100 percent of cities’ recycling costs. Companies will pay fees depending on a number of factors — like how much the packaging weighs and how easy it is to recycle — to an organization responsible for reimbursing cities and towns for their recycling operations. Oregon’s law, signed last month, will make companies pay for about 28 percent of the recycling costs, with municipalities handling the rest. The Maine law, signed by Democratic Governor Janet Mills in July, requires producers to cover 100 percent of cities’ recycling costs. Companies will pay fees depending on a number of factors — like how much the packaging weighs and how easy it is to recycle — to an organization responsible for reimbursing cities and towns for their recycling operations. Oregon’s law, signed last month, will make companies pay for about 28 percent of the recycling costs, with municipalities handling the rest. The state’s U.S. Senator, Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, reintroduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act in Congress this year, along with Representative Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat from California. It would include a national program to make companies pay for the packaging they use. A handful of states considered similar bills this year, including Maryland, New York, Hawaii, California, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Although those bills didn’t pass, Yinka Bode-George, the environmental health manager at the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators in Washington, D.C., expects that some of them might succeed next year. The state’s U.S. Senator, Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, reintroduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act in Congress this year, along with Representative Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat from California. It would include a national program to make companies pay for the packaging they use. A handful of states considered similar bills this year, including Maryland, New York, Hawaii, California, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Although those bills didn’t pass, Yinka Bode-George, the environmental health manager at the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators in Washington, D.C., expects that some of them might succeed next year. This trend was precipitated by a crisis in the recycling system. The United States used to sell much of its plastic waste to China, shipping it across the Pacific. But in 2017, China banned imports of many types of plastic and paper, and the market for recycling in the U.S. cratered. Dozens of cities ended up suspending or weakening their recycling programs. Materials dropped off for recycling now often head to the dump instead, or end up being incinerated, polluting the air with toxic compounds in mostly marginalized communities. This trend was precipitated by a crisis in the recycling system. The United States used to sell much of its plastic waste to China, shipping it across the Pacific. But in 2017, China banned imports of many types of plastic and paper, and the market for recycling in the U.S. cratered. Dozens of cities ended up suspending or weakening their recycling programs. Materials dropped off for recycling now often head to the dump instead, or end up being incinerated, polluting the air with toxic compounds in mostly marginalized communities. In Maine, cities and towns were discussing dropping their recycling programs after they’d become too expensive, said Sarah Nichols, the director of sustainability at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. The new law, she said, “could be the difference between having a recycling program and not.” In Maine, cities and towns were discussing dropping their recycling programs after they’d become too expensive, said Sarah Nichols, the director of sustainability at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. The new law, she said, “could be the difference between having a recycling program and not.” A recent report from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives found that across five major cities in the U.S., only 8.8 percent of the plastic that goes into garbage and recycling bins actually ends up getting recycled. And about 29 percent of soft drink and water bottles — made from polyethylene terephthalate, a fairly easy material to recycle — gets recycled in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s not to say recycling is pointless, but rather that there are larger problems than the squirrel PSA implies. “When you look at the scale of this issue, we can’t, as consumers, recycle our way out of this. We don’t even have strong enough systems to,” Bode-George said. “And [companies] really need to step up and fund our systems so that they can operate adequately.”

The “Plastic Age” was once a promising vision of the future. Right before World War II, some dreamed that this material, so cheap to produce and so flexible in application, would bring abundance to the world. “Let us try to imagine a dweller in the ‘Plastic Age,’” wrote Victor Yarsely and Edward Couzens, two British chemists, in the magazine Science Digest in 1941. “This ‘Plastic Man’ will come into a world of colour and bright shining surfaces … a world in which man, like a magician, makes what he wants for almost every need.” A recent report from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives found that across five major cities in the U.S., only 8.8 percent of the plastic that goes into garbage and recycling bins actually ends up getting recycled. And about 29 percent of soft drink and water bottles — made from polyethylene terephthalate, a fairly easy material to recycle — gets recycled in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s not to say recycling is pointless, but rather that there are larger problems than the squirrel PSA implies. “When you look at the scale of this issue, we can’t, as consumers, recycle our way out of this. We don’t even have strong enough systems to,” Bode-George said. “And [companies] really need to step up and fund our systems so that they can operate adequately.”

The “Plastic Age” was once a promising vision of the future. Right before World War II, some dreamed that this material, so cheap to produce and so flexible in application, would bring abundance to the world. “Let us try to imagine a dweller in the ‘Plastic Age,’” wrote Victor Yarsely and Edward Couzens, two British chemists, in the magazine Science Digest in 1941. “This ‘Plastic Man’ will come into a world of colour and bright shining surfaces … a world in which man, like a magician, makes what he wants for almost every need.”

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