It’s Easy Being Bag-Free!

Years ago I went to a market in Saanen, Switzerland and, much to my chagrin, they did not provide a bag for me to carry my groceries back to the chalet. I purchased a string bag on the spot, and after that I never again forgot to take my own bag to the store in Europe.

More recently, while visiting my relatives in Holland, I noticed that my cousin, like many other Dutch shoppers, brought cardboard boxes each time she made a trip to the store. For larger items or quantities, boxes work even better than canvas bags.

My bicycle is equipped with two large saddle bags that hold two giant canvas bags of groceries or other items. For larger things like watermelons I hook-up my trusty bike cart or use my handy personal shopping cart which I purchased at Star Market for about $18.

I also keep a large sturdy attractive straw basket, an old back-pack and a variety of recycled bags and cloth bags permanently in the car. Storing the plastic and paper bags you already have on hand immediately in the car rather than stuffing them in a drawer and risk forgetting to bring them when you run to the market, is one of the easiest things you can do for the environment.

It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bags Americans use each year. In addition, about 15 million trees are cut down to produce paper for paper bags. You can help reduce oil consumption and save trees simply by bringing your own bag on your next trip to the store.

Each sturdy reusable shopping bag you use has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic and paper bags over its lifetime.

As other citizens of our beautiful valley have pointed out, the City of Ojai should adopt a Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance. The facts and figures regarding the true cost of plastic bags are well-documented on web sites like which features a counting clock of plastic bags consumed this year. One million bags a minute are consumed, becoming trash and choking marine mammals.

Becoming a plastic-bag-free City is one more important step towards Ojai becoming a model Sustainable City. Local stores can look to stores like the Swedish furniture company, IKEA for ways to encourage customers to remember to bring their own re-usable bags. IKEA is charging shoppers in their U.S. stores five cents for each plastic bag. The move to charging for a bag helps to remind more people to bring a reusable sack. Stores should also credit customers five cents for each recycled bag used in bagging their groceries.

Ojai stores should take the lead and adopt bag reduction measures such as the above as soon as possible. There are numerous other ways to motivate customers to bring their own bags, boxes and baskets. Another step used by some stores is to provide a bin where customers can use re-cycled paper and plastic bags brought in by other customers, for those times they forget to bring their own.

Ojai stores could have a display with the Top Facts on the true cost and environmental impact of plastic bags. For example:
Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.

According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion)
According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year—900 per person.

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.

Plastic bags do not biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.

Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group harvests 30,000 per month.

According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone “from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere from Spitsbergen 78° North [latitude] to Falklands 51° South [latitude].

Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.

Remember: Each high quality reusable shopping bag you use has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic and paper bags over its lifetime.

(Editorial, 2007)

Car Free in Carmageddon

About seven years ago I gradually changed my trip to work from a two-hour car commute to a refreshing ten-minute bicycle ride.

After a decade of driving the freeway, my soul had grown weary of watching the sun rise and set from behind the steering wheel. Working closer to home meant a cut in my income, giving up my new Mazda mini van and downsizing to an older Toyota.

Around this same time I began reading a mountain of books on sustainable cities and saving the Earth; pleas for sanity like “If You Love this Planet,” by Helen Caldicott, MD, “How Much Is Enough” by Alan Durning, “The Geography of Nowhere”by James Howard Kunstler and “Asphalt Nation-How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back,” by Jane Holtz Kay.

Amazingly, these books all said the same thing: “The cumulative effect of 500 million cars worldwide is responsible for more social and environmental damage than any other artifact on our planet.”

I learned that half of all daily trips in the United States lie within a three-mile radius and a quarter of all trips are only a mile long or less; that people live in a realm much smaller then they think, using vehicles too big for the real scale of their daily travel. I began to note that cars often function as glorified shopping carts and saw that we use two tons of steel to haul a one pound loaf of bread.

Besides educating myself about the hidden cost of the private car, what really made me question the driving life was the observation that in spite of increased speed, people feel like they have less time then ever before. Greater mobility has had the paradoxical effect of lengthening how far people go rather than saving them time. Time-use studies find little difference in average commuting times in the car-centered US culture where we guzzle 40% of the world’s gasoline, and in countries that are virtually carless. People without cars walk, bicycle or take the bus to work a half-hour or hour each way; Americans drive the same amount of time.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me clarify that I see nothing wrong with the car per se-I like their comfort and convenience as much as the next person does. Used wisely, cars have their place in a balanced transportation system. It’s just that there’s too darned many of them and our small planet cannot possibly cough up enough resources to provide every human being with their own air-conditioned/CD/phone/fax/micro-wave equipped “carcoon.”

I’ve always been a part time cyclist but what I learned about cars and the environment inspired me to take bicycling to a whole new level.

The day came that I began to resent paying insurance on a vehicle I only pulled out of the driveway two or three times a month.

Shortly thereafter I sold my Toyota. For the past five years I’ve been conducting an experiment to see if it’s still possible, in a culture that practically makes car ownership a mandatory condition of legitimate citizenship, to function AUTOFREE.

Cars define us and promise euphoria. Alas, cars are no longer our servants. They are our masters.

I made a vow that, except for emergencies, I would make all trips within a three-mile radius on foot or bicycle. I purchased a collapsible shopping cart and a bicycle trailer big enough to hold a fifty-pound bag of potbellied pigfood and four bags of groceries. I’ve learned to ride wearing almost any outfit -a business suit or even a long skirt, rain or shine. I have an electric bike to help me when my travels take me uphill. Occasionally I ride the bus and use the airport shuttle. And, in a culture where many families have two or three vehicles, it’s not hard to catch a ride or borrow or rent a car when a genuine need arises!

(Editorial, Ojai Valley News and other publications, 2000)

Ahimsa and Animal Advocacy

August 16, 2009 – Ventura County Star Opinion:

4-H responsibility should include visit to slaughterhouse

September 02, 2009 – Fair No Fun for 4-H Pet Market Animals, but Happy Ending For One Lucky Pig

August 14, 2009 – Today is Auction Day for the 4-H Animals.

August 11, 2009 – 4-H Kids and Their Animals: the Ultimate Betrayal at the Fair

August 09, 2009 – Why 4-H Kids Should Not Send Their Animals to the Slaughterhouse

October 21, 2008 – Does Ojai Care About Animals?

July 18, 2008 – From Rosie and Tillie: Ojai SpokesPigs Alert

June 21, 2008 – Keeping Cool in Hot Ojai with Rosie, Tillie and Artoo-Detoo

May 06, 2008 – Announcement from Rosie and Tillie: Anti-Cruelty Measure Certified for California’s November Ballot

April 24, 2008 – “Supporting our Planet … One Bite at a Time!”

April 22, 2008 – A Yoga In the Ojai Valley Earth Day Review: Green Yoga

April 21, 2008 – Earth Day Editorial by Rosie and Tillie, Ojai Spokespigs

March 09, 2008 – EARTHLINGS

February 29, 2008 – Meet Rosie and Tillie, Ojai’s First Spokespigs
February 13, 2008 – A Visit to an Ojai Pig Sanctuary

December 07, 2007 – The Call to Mercy

December 02, 2007 – Say YES! for Humane Treatment of Animals

November 22, 2007 – George Bush: Pardon All The Turkeys

October 19, 2007 – The greening of Ojai–a chicken coop in every backyard?

August 08, 2007 Do 4-H Kids Really Know Where Their Animals Are Going?