Plastic Bags

I went to the store yesterday for grocery shopping and brought my reusable bags along. While checking out, the woman who was doing the bagging was putting my stuff in a plastic bag FIRST and then into my reusable bags. This was a first, so for a second there I was amused and then I asked her to put my stuff directly in the reusable bags. But then she started arguing, “oh you can’t have the fruit with the cleaning products and the frozen stuff together in one bag” “oh, yes, I can” I said, but then she continued arguing. I gave up, OK fine I thought, why would I bother arguing with a middle aged woman bagging groceries in a Stop and Shop…

Now my problem – among others – is that Stop and Shop actually promotes the sale and use of reusable canvas bags, as well as the recycling of plastic bags, but somehow failed to notify their employees about it. They even give you a credit of 5c everytime you use a reusable bag, but sometimes you have to tell the cashier about it, as they tend to forget. And the other mildly annoying thing they do is that they half-fill the bags, and then use plastic bags for the rest. Then I have to ask them to put more stuff in them, or do it myself. Of course the culture at Trader Joes and Whole Foods is totally different: they overstuff the bags and I like it.

My question is what good is it if you have all the good intentions (as Stop and Shop aparently does) but then fail in the implementation. I don’t want to tell their employees what they should be doing. Truth to be told usually I am in the reusable bag minority in their stores, but is it so difficult to implement the environmentally friendly conciousness they’re trying to promote? And no, I don’t think it is a good idea to take all the plastic bags they have used and put them into the plastic bags recycling bin. This is because recycling plastic bags is very expensive and inefficient. Yes, it is better than throwing them out in the trash, but the best solution is to ban them altogether.

After yesterday’s incident I have been doing some more research about plastic bags to go after the numbers. We all know that plastic bags are bad for the environment: they can persist in the landfills for centuries as they do not biodegrade, seas and fresh water bodies are littered with them. Now the hard numbers: the EPA estimates that every year Americans throw 380 billion plastic bags away, which is  the equivalent to throwing away  millions of barrels of oil, since plastic bags are made of petrochemicals.

Plastic bags are not recycling friendly: one, you cannot recycle them with other plastic products and two, you can only downcycle them, meaning you can only put them into products that cannot be recycled. Plastic bags are never recycled to new recycled bags, for the sole reason that a new plastic bag is cheaper.

Bangladesh has banned the use of plastic bags and Ireland has imposed a 22-cent tax on plastic bags, which has reduced their use by more than 90% since 2002. Here in the US, the only major city banning the use of plastic bags is San Fransisco (since 2007). Other cities are looking into imposing fees on plastic bags: New York City a 5-cent fee and Seattle a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic shopping bags in retail stores. Here in Massachusetts, Plymouth has rejected a proposed ban on plastic bags, and a fee is considered state wide. By the way, did you know that the Commonwealth has designated Wednesday as a reusable bag day (back in 2007)? Yep, that’s what I thought, I didn’t know either. Another example of a well-thought and poorly-executed initiative: the idea was that retailers would encourage customers to consider bringing in their own bags or purchasing reusable bags. I’m sure Foodmaster and Market Basket were all over that…

So we all agree that plastic bags are bad for the environment. What do we do about it? I don’t think a fee will fly now that we have to deal with a newly proposed 19-cent gasoline tax, and we will still have many plastic bags around. Ireland is a good example of such a measure’s success, but I think that banning plastic shopping bags in retail stores altogether is the way to go. The only opposition we will face will be that of the association of plastic bag manufacturers which calls itself  -are you ready?- the Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling. Now all we gotta do is come up with a smart, beat-around-the-bush name like that for the ban-the-plastic-bag coalition, something like Coalition to Support Reusable Bag Use…

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Got Productivity?

Do you remember the days when we used to be productive? When there were no distractions and we actually worked 8 or 7  hours a day? The days when there was no internet connection standard in your office desktop? The days when there was no mobile internet access? I remember those days, and they seem to be light years away.

Now it looks like we’re all suffering from ADD, updating personal profiles on social networking sites, constantly checking e-mails and favorite websites, updating and reading blogs and news stories, consuming everything that’s out there. It is pretty addictive. It feels like we are on the receiving end, always. When do we find time to create? To work? To think? How much of our life are we living on-line? Some are complaining about long working hours and all, but have you ever really thought how many net hours you’re actually working per day? I have and it’s surprising…

DM are coming to Boston

I was recently whining about the fact that Depeche Mode is my only favorite band that I haven’t seen live and so want to, and I guess the gods of live shows and touring bands had an available ear at that point: According to BrooklynVegan and the band’s website, they have scheduled a North American tour with a stop in Boston on Friday July 31, 2009. No venue has been announced yet, and the only way I’m missing the show is if I am some thousand miles away swimming in the clear blue waters of  the Mediterranean sea.

Shepard Fairey at the ICA

First I have to say that Shepard Fairey’s exhibition at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art was better and more impressive than I expected it to be. The current exhibit at the ICA, “Supply and Demand”, is his first solo museum exhibition, it is expansive and pretty interesting. I think he is a very good graphic designer, capable of producing posters  and street art that is eye-catching, and occasionally witty. The references in his work are obvious: Warhol, Lichtenstein, posters of the Works Progress Administration (yes, Public Works rule), propaganda posters of the Hitler era, China and Russia, along with repeating patterns found on bank notes, buildings, newspapers, books etc etc.  The majority of the posters featured known faces and icons, from Warhol and Johnny Cash, to former and current Presidents, activists, musicians. I noticed repeated use of Joe Strummer’s face, and I would really like to know what Chomsky thought of the use of his image.

As I said Fairey is a very good graphic designer: his work is eye-catching, pretty geometric, with words and phrases that feel complementary to the image. Sometimes the collages feel overcrowded, which is the reason I didn’t like the Capitalism Good/Bad side posters, although I did enjoy the line “Freedom of the press is guaranteed to those who own one”. If I was thirteen Fairey would have been my favorite artist: pairing cool imagery with tongue-in-cheek one liners, presenting one as anti-establishment activist, while appropriately worshipping punk musicians…

The famous “Obama HOPE” poster is far more interesting up close: Obama’s image is pasted onto a collage of newspapers and it is feels less two-dimensional than it does on the computer screen. Of course this poster got so huge, that the Associated Press felt compelled to ask for credit and compensation for the copyrighted photo used on the poster, which was taken by Mannie Garcia, while on assignment for the AP. Garcia believes that heowns the copyright, and Fairey believes that his use of the photo is within the legal definition of fair use. This is what Garcia told the NYTimes:

I don’t condone people taking things, just because they can, off the Internet. But in this case I think it’s a very unique situation. If you put all the legal stuff away, I’m so proud of the photograph and that Fairey did what he did artistically with it, and the effect it’s had.

Exactly right. Garcia took this photo back in 2006 at the National Press Club in Washington at an event about Darfur. Obama seats next to George Clooney and is listening to the conservative Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. Obama looks like he’s spacing out a little bit, like he’s thinking of something else. Then, Fairey took this photo, saw the potential in the lifted chin, manipulated the image while adding some simply cool graphics, and then added the word HOPE beneath, and right there it was when the plain photo transcended into a symbol. So, no, I do not think that Shepard plagiarized; he did appropriate the image, and then created something bigger. Of course he could have asked Garcia for permission, but right, why bother…

Also I did not like this accompanying description to the “Obama HOPE” poster at the exhibition:

Fairey renders Obama with his face slightly lifted, gazing into the distance with resolute optimism.

Uh, no, actually Fairey does NOT render Obama with his face slightly lifted, Obama is like that in the original photo that Garcia took. Who at the ICA wrote that stuff? The curator? That’s just blatantly wrong…

Anyway, Fairey is very much involved in marketing and the art of “selling stuff”. So capitalism has worked pretty well for him financially. Of course I read on the exhibition brochure that “Fairey and other street artists exploit the same system they are fighting against, generating profitable art and design to fund their less politically correct initiatives on city streets” (whatever that might be). Still I find it rather ironic when he tries to exude a sense of anti-establishment, anti-capitalism in his work, and when I see Bank of America, Levi’s, Hood and Karmaloop sponsoring his exhibition. “Supply and Demand” all right…