DIANE PHILLIPS: Just when we thought we were helping the planet


Diane Phillips

Lots of things break down. Cars and trucks break down for sure. So do bikes, boats, fork lifts, just about anything mechanical. Even the body breaks down. And sadly, sometimes, once promising personal relationships break down. But it turns out that the one thing we pinned our hopes on just a few short years ago, believing when it broke down it would be beneficial, may have let us all down.

That’s the biodegradable shopping bag.

It’s interesting to look back to get an idea of what we thought we were looking forward to. We don’t have to look very far, just back to the end of 2019 when the country got serious about a ban on single use plastics, including the grocery bag the food store would supply, alleviating us of the trouble of carting our own durable shopping bags.

We knew some countries had moved past single use plastics and we saw the reasoning, yet we confessed to some resistance. Lo and behold, along came the biodegradable bag and the store could continue supplying us, sparing us the trouble of remembering to drag our own bags into the store, load into the car, take into the house, unpack, clean or wipe down, take back out to the car, into the store and repeat the exercise.

The hope for the biodegradable bag came just in time. In late 2019, the country passed the Control of Plastic Pollution Bill which took effect the following January, banning the use of single use plastic and Styrofoam.

The progressive single use plastics ban legislation made for good intentions and strong headlines, placing The Bahamas high in the rarefied air of countries that care. We could boast about being a shark sanctuary and a protector of sea turtles and now we were saving our environment from the toxic waste of plastic.

There was little time to gloat. Along came a China-born virus which almost overnight blew up into a global pandemic and knocked lesser news like a ban on plastics right out of the headlines. Meantime, after getting our lickings for environmental abuse, we had adjusted surprisingly well. We were masked and we were carrying our own bags for the most part and the single use plastic grocery bag had gone the way of a gathering with unmasked people sharing a punch bowl.

But still that alternative was surfacing. Some stores were offering what seemed like a return to shopping normalcy at a time when we craved it, providing biodegradable bags. It was the kind of marketing that would connect with anyone who searches for the word organic before looking at what else a food product has to offer. Biodegradable excited a positive knee-jerk reaction. Why wouldn’t it with a name that held so much promise?

Only it didn’t deliver. It broke down. That part of the promise was good as gold. But the pieces it broke down into would only break down into even smaller pieces and those pieces into even smaller pieces ad infinitum. Tiny plastic particles would cause greater potential danger to birds at the landfill who mistook them for food. They flutter, land helter-skelter, never fully returning to the state of organic matter.

Plastic would always be plastic.

We should have known, but it took British scientists at Plymouth University to prove the point.

In experiments over a five-year period beginning in 2015, the team of researchers studied biodegradable products and discovered the obvious: biodegradable applies to animal and plant processed products or materials which return to their organic state by the introduction of micro organisms like a fungus or bacteria. But no fungus or bacteria will break down metal, glass or, you guessed it, plastic. In case you have any doubts about how thorough the research was, the graduate team that conducted the studies buried different types of materials they studied in various types of environments including immersing them in water, burying them in soil and exposing them to outdoor air. The results were the same – that which started out as organic material could be broken down and biodegrade but metals, glass and plastic could not be coerced into biodegrading by colliding with fungi or bacteria.

My ‘study’ (see photo) was hardly scholarly. I had a few ‘biodegradable’ bags that I had forgotten about inside a cloth bag in a broom closet and when I cleaned it out a year later, the green that floated out was all the proof I would ever need to continue to thank environmentalists who started and stuck with the plastics ban movement.

Baby and Mama will not be sleeping on the floor thanks to your kindness

The first time I heard about the woman we called Alysha I thought if I told her story, or a small piece of it, someone might respond but I never expected the kind of overwhelming kindness that Bahamians demonstrated even in times as tough as these for many of you who found a way to give a little or a lot.

Here’s what I wrote in the second reference to her, a column that was published two weeks ago.

If you want to measure the impact of COVID-19, you can find in the bare cupboards at Alysha’s apartment. Or the empty space where the refrigerator used to be before she had to sell it to help keep a roof over her children’s heads. The signs of the pandemic are everywhere in this space – the stove parts on top of the pulled apart appliance that only needs $153 to make it work again, but right now in Alysha’s world, $153 might as well be a thousand.

We told you about Alysha (not her real name) a few weeks ago, a woman who was about to give birth and would be sleeping on the floor with her baby because through no fault of her own, a virus swept through the world and took with it the job she had at Baha Mar for the last seven years.

Thanks to you, Alsysha’s life is so much better. A stranger secured the part for her car so she can now get to work when maternity leave is over. Someone else donated a stove and a technician installed it without charge. An anonymous team provided blankets and furniture. Another person helped with her rent and another with her BPL bill so the power would not be turned off.

Blot on the landscape

Business is at an apparent all-time low, but this eyesore remains highly visible on East Bay Street. What more does it take to have a site condemned or force a property owner to clean up a derelict space that could easily pose a health and safety hazard, including a haven for sexual assault. Maybe the same attention that drove the clean-up of a lot on Shirley Street this week could be brought to this wreck near the Paradise Island bridge. Surely, we have more pride than this.

The kindness of Bahamians cannot be measured except through tears of joy knowing there is so much good in the world we live in and nothing, not even the worst pandemic in history, can destroy the desire to help.

Thank you each and every one of you who made life a little easier and a lot brighter for Alysha and baby Kamala-O.


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