Pesticide-resistant weeds closing in on Pennsylvania

live.psu.edu/story/56464#nw69
Friday, November 18, 2011

Credit: USDA Early growth stage of water-hemp, a weed that is becoming resistant to certain herbicides.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The challenge of weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate — the active ingredient in Round-Up herbicide — has become an evolving national threat, with new challenges emerging and spreading annually. At least three glyphosate-resistant species on the horizon for Pennsylvania require new strategies to combat them, according to a specialist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Penn State Extension weed scientist Dwight Lingenfelter said several resistant species currently are approaching Pennsylvania. These weeds were controlled routinely over the years with glyphosate-based herbicide programs, but now the effectiveness of those programs is dwindling.

“There’s a species called Palmer pigweed or Palmer amaranth, which is a huge problem — especially in cotton-growing regions,” he said. “In the past, farmers were spending only maybe $20 to $30 an acre to control pigweed; now they’re up over $90 to $100 an acre, because of its resistance to a number of herbicide modes of action.

“Currently, we don’t have any major outbreaks of it in Pennsylvania, but we’re hearing reports from Delaware and Maryland that they’re starting to find Palmer pigweed, and it’s more than likely to creep into our cropping systems, especially in the southern tier of the state.”

Lingenfelter said a second resistant species slowly invading the state, water-hemp, already is creating big problems in the Midwest and South and is resistant to numerous herbicides as well.

“We had a person bring in a sample of water-hemp this summer, so we know there are some populations in our state currently,” he said. “We’re also seeing glyphosate-resistant species of horseweed or marestail spreading throughout the state — it’s very common in the mid-Atlantic region and Midwestern states.”

While it might sound like it’s losing its effectiveness, glyphosate is still vital in “burn-down” weed-control programs, which work by killing any vegetation on a treated field.

“It’s still a very effective herbicide for a number of species in our area,” he said. “It controls a number of weeds in the burn-down period and still is a foundation or backbone for many weed-control programs. We recommend using other herbicides in combination with it to control weeds that aren’t being controlled by glyphosate alone.

“We work with farmers to explain various programs that use different techniques and management options in a situation like that,” he said. “Generally, we recommend that if you’re using glyphosate in the burn-down, you also should use something such as 2-4-D or a product like Valor XLT Sharpen prior to planting soybeans. We also encourage tank-mixing herbicides or using pre-packaged products so multiple modes of action are in the weed-control program.”

The mode of action is the way an herbicide affects the weed to kill it, Lingenfelter explained. “There are about 10 different major modes of action available, and you can combine those to get control of the particular species you’re going after. We highly recommend having at least two modes of action that act on that particular weed species.”

Newer herbicide products introduced in the last five years can help control resistant species in burn-down programs. But Lingenfelter pointed out that, while “new” products are being introduced on the market, the industry hasn’t produced a formulation that employs a new mode of action in more than 15 years.

“The reality is that many companies are repackaging products and giving them different trade names so it looks like we have a lot of new herbicides when in reality we do not. And if they were to discover a new mode of action in some lab today, we wouldn’t reap the benefits of it for at least 10 years, because it takes that long to get through all of the testing phases and field trials before it would hit the market.”

Lingenfelter said the diversity and rotation of crops grown in Pennsylvania gives it an advantage over states in the Midwest and South when it comes to fighting resistant weeds. Corn, cotton and soybeans are the primary field crops in the Midwest and South, and more than 90 percent of the acres are sprayed with glyphosate, so weeds are pushed to develop resistance.

“Here in Pennsylvania, we typically rotate between corn, soybeans, alfalfa, small grains and sometimes various vegetable crops, depending on the area of the state,” he said. “Because of this, we use a variety of weed-control methods. Not only does this allow for different herbicides and a rotation of herbicide modes of action, but it allows for other weed-management techniques — such as mowing forage crops or the addition of cover crops — and other cultural tactics such as variations in planting date, seeding rate or row spacing.

“We still use a lot of Round-Up-ready corn and soybeans, but glyphosate is not the primary means of control. Also, different types of weeds are common in different crops depending on life cycles and growth habit. Our diverse rotations should hold off resistance pretty well, but we’ll have to start thinking about different techniques to handle it.”

Lingenfelter said Pennsylvania growers can learn a lesson from watching the experience of their neighbors in states to the south and west. “The majority of the resistance problem in these other regions is they were relying on a single mode of action — that being glyphosate.”

For more information, contact Dwight Lingenfelter at 814-865-2242 or dxl18@psu.edu.

Hawk Mountain to host annual Native Plant Sale May 21-22

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Mary Linkevich
Director of Communication & Grants
linkevich@hawkmountain.org

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
1700 Hawk Mountain Road, Kempton, PA  19529
610-756-6961        http://www.hawkmountain.org/

Visit Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton on May 21 and 22 between 10 am and 4 pm and select from 225 species of native plants, flowers, ferns, vines, ground cover, shrubs and trees during the Sanctuary’s annual two-day Native Plant Sale. All proceeds benefit Hawk Mountain conservation programs, and the event features a strong educational component with friendly service by the Sanctuary’s native plant volunteers.

Children’s activities will be held both days: a Noon program to learn about butterflies and host plants, and a 2 pm Praying Mantis Hunt. Other Saturday programs for visitors of all ages include an 11 am Butterfly Walk, a 1 pm Fern Walk and a 3 pm How Natives Benefit Wildlife Walk. On Sunday, the Wildlife Benefits Walk will be held at 11, Flower Photography Tips at 1, and a 3 pm guided Fern Walk.

Both days also will feature live raptor programs at 11 am and 2 pm, and as always, the trails and scenic overlooks are open to all for a modest trail fee. Indoors, a selection of native plant gardening books will be available for sale, as well as the Mountain Bookstore’s usual selection of field guides on butterflies, birds and amphibians.

The message during the sale is simple but direct: Native plants benefit wildlife. That means even if you’re not a gardener, you can still drop by and  learn how anyone can help save Pennsylvania’s native ecosystems just by introducing the right kind of plants—those native to our area. Native plants require little maintenance, attract bird and butterflies, and don’t require dangerous pesticides … So why not check it out and go native?

For more information, please contact info@hawkmountain.org, www.hawkmountain.org, or 610-756-6961

Electronic recycling event slated April 25, 26 in Carbon County

The Carbon County Department of Solid Waste has announced that it will hold its spring 2011 electronic recycling event on April 25 and 26 at the Lower Towamensing Township building.

The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., on April 25, and noon to 6 p.m. on April 26.

During the two-day event, Carbon officials and Advanced Green Solutions, will accept electronics at no charge to Carbon County residents. Acceptable materials include: VCRs, DVD players, radios, stereo equipment, computer towers, printers, scanners, keyboards, laptops, hard drives, mainframe and telecom equipment, application (OEM) equipment, circuit boards of any kind, fax machines, typewriters, and telephones. Computer monitors will be accepted by Advanced Green Solutions with a $7 charge; TVs and air conditioners will be accepted with a $20 charge.

There will also be collection boxes for old cell phones and printer ink jet cartridges. Household appliances will not be accepted.

For more information, contact the Department of Solid Waste at (610) 852-5111.

http://www.tnonline.com/node/179254
Reported on Saturday, March 5, 2011

Earth Day Poster Contest

Contact: Roy Seneca seneca.roy@epa.gov 215-814-5567

EPA wants students to participate in Earth Day Poster Contest

(PHILADELPHIA – March 1, 2011) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is co-sponsoring an Earth Day Poster Contest for students in kindergarten through grade 12 in EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, which includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Students are invited to submit hand-created drawings on plain letter-sized paper using markers, colored pencils, crayons, pens and/or paint.  Computer-generated images will not be accepted.  Students can choose one of the four themes:

1)      Protect Habitats, Endangered Species

2)      Help Protect the Earth from Climate Change

3)      The Meaning of Earth Day

4)      Bays, Estuaries, Oceans and Coasts

Entries will be divided into four categories: K-2nd grade; grades 3-5; grades 6-8; and grades 9-12.  The top three winners in each category will receive prize packages.  Winning entries and others will be displayed at various locations throughout the region including EPA’s Public Information Office.  Posters will also be posted on EPA’s website.    Entries must be postmarked no later than Earth Day, April 22 and mailed to:

Earth Day Poster Contest (3PA00)

U.S. EPA Region 3

1650 Arch Street

Philadelphia, PA 19103

The back of the poster should include the competition theme, name, age, school name, grade, parent/guardian’s name, address, telephone number and email.

The contest is co-sponsored by EPA, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Philadelphia Zoo and the National Aquarium at Baltimore.  For more information, call (215) 814-5100 or email EarthDay@epa.gov .

Note: If a link above doesn’t work, please copy and paste the URL into a browser.

‘Water Footprinting’ to Deal With Demand for Supplies

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/business/energy-environment/29iht-RBOGFOOT.html
I.H.T. Special Report: Business of Green

‘Water Footprinting’ to Deal With Demand for Supplies

By TANAYA MACHEEL
Published: November 29, 2010

NEW YORK — A water-use report issued in September by Coca-Cola with the Nature Conservancy found that 518 liters of freshwater are required to produce just one liter of its Minute Maid orange juice, and 35 liters are needed to produce a half liter of Coca-Cola.

A growing awareness of just how much water it takes to produce everyday consumer goods is inspiring a rising interest in “water footprinting” — akin to carbon footprinting — as a tool to analyze and guide the development of new technologies, water infrastructure investment and policies aimed at coping with the world’s rising water demand.

Conceptually, the water footprint is similar to that of carbon — an impact indicator based on the total volume of direct and indirect freshwater used in producing a good or service. There is a difference, however. Unlike carbon in the atmosphere, fresh water resources are localized, not global.

“Water is not carbon,” said Jason Morrison, program director at the Pacific Institute, a research organization in Oakland, California, that studies resource sustainability issues. “Whatever you might say about the validity of carbon credits, it will be extremely hard to have that amount of success in the water area because, volumetrically, one volume of water has a different meaning in one part of the world versus another.”

Still, in July, Veolia Water North America, a water and wastewater utility based in Chicago, and part of the French utility Veolia Environnement, presented its water impact index. The company said it was the first indicator to provide a comprehensive assessment of the effects of human activity on water resources.

“Current water footprints focus almost exclusively on volume,” said Laurent Auguste, the company’s president and chief executive. Volume, he said, is “a good indicator to raise awareness, but not sufficient to represent the impact on a water resource.”

The volume of water needed to produce a carton of orange juice or a bottle of Coca-Cola, for example, may be fixed; but the actual effect on a freshwater resource, and the local environment, can vary tremendously — including the amount of energy and raw materials used and the chemical and other waste contaminants created in the process.

To give a fuller view, Veolia’s index integrates other variables, including resource stress, water quality and competing consumption needs with existing volume-based water measurement tools.

Some analysts, however, question the usefulness of that approach.

Claudia Ringler, a senior research fellow in Montreal with the International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, said water footprinting was a good concept in theory, but less so in practice. “It’s almost impossible to do a comprehensive analysis,” Ms. Ringler said. “One has to be very careful before drawing conclusions based on it.”

David Zetland, an economist and the author of a forthcoming book, “The End of Abundance: Your Guide to the New Economics of Water Scarcity,” said footprinting would serve little purpose unless, for a start, water was priced according to its value.

If water were appropriately priced, he said, the price of consumer products would reflect the amount of water used in making them. Since most consumers either would not understand footprinting, or would not care, Mr. Zetland said, they would almost always pay more attention to the price of what they bought than to a certificate on the label.

From the point of view of producing companies, he added, if water supplies were free, or nearly so, water footprinting and investments in water efficiency would remain superfluous. “Water footprinting has no operational, economic or social value to companies if the cost of labor and equipment to reduce water consumption exceeds the cost of the water saved,” Mr. Zetland said.

The basic problem, he said, is that the price of water rarely reflects its value or scarcity. “The price for most products combines value to consumers with the cost of production and delivery,” Mr. Zetland said. “Since the price of water only reflects the cost of delivery — the water itself is free — we don’t pay a price that reflects its value or scarcity.”

Still, not all experts are so dismissive. Even though water footprinting is still in its infancy, and there is no common agreement on what variables should be taken into account, tools like the Veolia index could help to map the relative risks associated with water use in specific locations, said Mr. Morrison, the Pacific Institute program director.

With water-related risk likely to become more pronounced over time, he said, “there is a lot of value to water footprinting, no matter how you define it.”

A recent report by the institute, prepared for the United Nations Environment Program, evaluated different water-accounting tools and found that many, though still evolving, would be essential to companies in their water risk and impact assessments and water management, Mr. Morrison added.

Water footprinting has also spawned interest in markets as a possible driver for smarter water use. Water markets are full of distortions, said Ms. Ringler, the International Food Policy research fellow, and it is almost impossible to create a real competitive international market. But there are examples of successful in-country water markets, she added, citing river basins in Australia and Chile.

Michael Van Patten is chief executive and founder of Mission Markets, a financial services company that operates Earth, a multi-environmental credit exchange regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in the United States. “We might be several years away, but the potential is huge,” he said. “The world knows we have a huge water problem, and no one knows how to solve it yet. This is one way to approach it.”

His idea is to develop tradable credits from the offsets of localized water projects. These could be bought by companies, countries or any community with a direct effect on the water supply. While there is no regulation in the United States to drive such a market, credit programs, if managed properly, could help to encourage environmental protection by reducing the costs involved, said Christian Holmes, a senior adviser for energy and environment at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Still, said Charles Iceland, an associate with the World Resources Institute, water is a highly political topic, and allocation decisions cannot be made on the basis of economic efficiency alone.

“Whatever management scheme you devise must have equity built into it,” Mr. Iceland said, “so that people have their human right to water.”

Being Too Clean Can Make Young People Sick

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/nov2010/2010-11-29-094.html

Being Too Clean Can Make Young People Sick

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, November 29, 2010 (ENS) – Age seems to matter when it comes to the health effects of environmental toxicants. Young people who are overexposed to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan may suffer more allergies, and exposure to higher levels of bisphenol A among adults may harm the immune system, a new University of Michigan School of Public Health study suggests.
Triclosan is a chemical compound used in products such as antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, pens, diaper bags and medical devices.

Bisphenol A is found in many plastics and used as a protective lining in food cans.

Both of these chemicals are in a class of environmental toxicants called endocrine disrupting compounds, which are believed to negatively impact human health by mimicking or affecting hormones.

Using data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, University of Michigan researchers compared urinary bisphenol A and triclosan with cytomegalovirus antibody levels and diagnosis of allergies or hay fever in a sample of U.S. adults and children over age six.

Allergy and hay fever diagnosis and cytomegalovirus, CMV, antibodies were used as two separate markers of immune alterations.

“We found that people over age 18 with higher levels of BPA exposure had higher CMV antibody levels, which suggests their cell-mediated immune system may not be functioning properly,” said Erin Rees Clayton, research investigator at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and first author on the paper.

Researchers also found that people age 18 and under with higher levels of triclosan were more likely to report diagnosis of allergies and hay fever.

There is growing concern among the scientific community and consumer groups that these endocrine disrupting compounds are dangerous to humans at lower levels than previously thought.

“The triclosan findings in the younger age groups may support the hygiene hypothesis, which maintains living in very clean and hygienic environments may impact our exposure to micro-organisms that are beneficial for development of the immune system,” said Allison Aiello, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and principal investigator on the study.

As an antimicrobial agent found in many household products, triclosan may play a role in changing the micro-organisms to which we are exposed in such a way that our immune system development in childhood is affected.

“It is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good,” said Aiello, who is also a visiting associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard.

Previous animal studies indicate that bisphenol A and triclosan may affect the immune system, but this is the first known study to look at exposure to BPA and triclosan as it relates to human immune function, Aiello said.

One surprise finding is that with bisphenol A exposure, age seems to matter, said Rees Clayton. In people 18 or older, higher amounts of BPA were associated with higher CMV levels, but in people younger than 18 the reverse was true.

“This suggests the timing of the exposure to BPA and perhaps the quantity and length of time we are exposed to BPA may be affecting the immune system response,” Rees Clayton said.

This is just the first step, she said, but a very important one. Going forward, researchers would like to study the long-term effects of BPA and triclosan in people to see if they can establish a causal relationship.

One limitation of the study is that it measured disease and exposure simultaneously and thus shows only part of the picture, Aiello said.

“It is possible, for example, that individuals who have an allergy are more hygienic because of their condition, and that the relationship we observed is, therefore, not causal or is an example of reverse causation,” Aiello said.

The paper, “The Impact of Bisphenol A and Triclosan on Immune Parameters in the U.S. Population,” appears in the current online issue of the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives.”

Autumn events at Lehigh Gap Nature Center

Dear LGNC Members and Friends,

This is a reminder of two Autumn events here at Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

1) Oct. 9 — Bird Walk (8:00 a.m.). This will be a special field trip to Bake Oven Knob to observe the hawk migration. It is peak season for Sharp-shinned Hawks and all three falcon species, and every species that passes the lookout is possible on this date. Meet at the Osprey House at 8:00 a.m. to travel to Bake Oven Knob. The field trip will last until about noon, but you are welcome to leave early or stay late if you drive to the Bake Oven Knob parking lot. The hike to the lookout is about half a mile over very rocky terrain. Hiking stick or ski pole is advised if you are not steady on the rocks.
Bring snacks, water, and lots of warm clothing. It often feels 10-20 degrees colder on the lookout than in the valleys below. Please note that there are no snack or restroom facilities at Bake Oven Knob.

2) Oct. 16 — Autumn Refuge Hike (1:00 p.m.). Join us at this most beautiful time of year for a 6 mile hike through the grassland restoration area and out to the Chestnut Oak Trail. Some short steep uphill grades, some rocky trail, and 6 miles long.

In addition, see the announcement below about a free lecture at Moravian College.

Dan Kunkle
Lehigh Gap Nature Center
P.O. Box 198
Slatington, PA 18080
ph/fax 610-760-8889
http://lgnc.org

Shiva poster_1

Shortage of rain must be taken seriously

http://www.tnonline.com/node/135919
Reported on Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Drought warning
Shortage of rain must be taken seriously

Last week, the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a drought warning for our newspaper’s entire coverage area – Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, and Schuylkill Counties.

The combination of lower rain than usual with the excessive summer heat has resulted in stream levels being well below normal.

One only has to see the receding shore line at Mauch Chunk Lake Park to understand how critical the water level has become.

The National Weather Service says rainfall is four inches below normal for the past 90 days in the Lehigh Valley. Carbon County has a 4.5 inch deficit for 90 days while in Monroe County, there is a 5.2 inch rainfall shortage for the three-month period.

The DEP is asking people to conserve water. One of the most common sources of waste water is a leak within your residence, such as a toilet. DEP says a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water per day. Although many households are strapped for cash right now, fixing such a leak should be a priority since it can also reduce your monthly water bill.

DEP encourages residents to conserve water by taking showers instead of baths.

Also, keep water in the refrigerator to avoid running water from a faucet until it is cold.

Run your dishwasher only when it is full.

Water is a precious resource and we can’t ignore the fact that levels at our storage facilities are being reduced by the lack of rain. Generally, the water lines aren’t fully restored until spring when a  good snow pack melts. A dry winter will make things very critical, so it’s best to start conserving now.

This is especially true if you rely on wells rather than city water.

The DEP could do more to help the situation by making its Web site more user friendly with drought advice, suggestions, and information. Very little is stated on the DEP site about the drought conditions.

After all, it is the DEP which issues drought warnings.

We agree that there is a drought. We have to think ahead, though, to assure that if the drought continues, we’ll still have enough water to meet our every day needs.

By Ron Gower
rgower@tnonline.com

Carbon County, PA Water deficit

http://www.tnonline.com/node/136939
Reported on Friday, September 24, 2010

Carbon County, PA Water deficit
Drought raises concern with local officials

By AMY MILLER amiller@tnonline.com

Carbon County has seen the effects of lower than normal rainfalls over the summer.

During the county commissioners’ meeting on Thursday, Commissioner Wayne Nothstein provided an update on the drought warning that was issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection last Thursday. A drought warning is issued when areas see a significant precipitation deficit as a result of little to no rainfall over a 90-day period. In some counties throughout Pennsylvania, deficits are as great as 5.6 inches below normal.

Nothstein said that Beltzville Lake, located near Lehighton, is down 15 feet as a result of dam releases that are needed to keep the salt water levels down in the rivers; as well as evaporation.

On Wednesday, officials at the lake closed the boat launches at Beltzville for the season because levels were so low.

Nothstein also said that Mauch Chunk Lake is experiencing lower than normal levels. Last week, the lake was down a total of 50 inches, but as of yesterday, the lake was showing that it was down 54 inches.

“It looks like the lake is losing a half inch a day,” he said. “I want to remind everyone, especially in the west side of Jim Thorpe, that is where the water supply comes from for Jim Thorpe.”

Nothstein added that the Lehigh River is also operating on less than half of its normal flow.

“As of Wednesday, the river was flowing at 169 cubic feet per second, which equates to 76,000 gallons per minute,” he said. “The average (normal flow of the Lehigh) over a 27-year period is 167,000 gallons a minute.”

Mark Nalesnik, Carbon County Emergency Management Agency coordinator, also noted that he was told the recreation pool at the Francis E. Walter Dam is completely used up.

He and Nothstein urge residents to try to conserve water usage when they can until the county gets a significant rainfall.

“It’s necessary to conserve water at this point,” Nalesnik said.

Four burn bans have also been put into place in municipalities throughout the county as a result of the drier than normal conditions. Those municipalities include Nesquehoning, Bowmanstown, East Penn Township and Jim Thorpe.

To conserve water, DEP suggests fixing any leaks in household plumbing, installing low-flow or aerators nozzles on shower heads and faucets, taking short showers instead of baths, replacing older washers with front loading washers, running the dishwasher and washing machine only when they are full, avoid running water excessively.

For more tips on conserving water, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: drought.

In a related matter, Nothstein also announced that there is help for farmers that have been affected by the drought.

He read a portion of a press release from Speaker of the House Keith McCall (D-Carbon), stating that farmers in Carbon County are eligible to apply for low-interest emergency disaster assistance loans from the federal Department of Agriculture to help recover crop losses associated with the summer’s dry weather.

To apply for the loan, farmers need to contact the Carbon County Farm Service Agency in Lehighton at (610) 377-6300 or visit www.fsa.usda.gov.

Farmers have eight months from Sept. 10, to apply for the loans, the press release states.

How long it really takes for a plastic grocery bag to decompose

http://www.emagazine.com/view/?5337

EARTHTALK
Week of 09/19/10

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard conflicting reports regarding how long it really takes for a plastic grocery bag to decompose. Can you set the record straight?
— Martha Blount, San Diego, CA

Researchers fear that such ubiquitous bags may never fully decompose; instead they gradually just turn into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic. The most common type of plastic shopping bag is made of polyethylene, a petroleum-derived polymer that microorganisms don’t recognize as food and as such cannot technically “biodegrade.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines biodegradation as “a process by which microbial organisms transform or alter (through metabolic or enzymatic action) the structure of chemicals introduced into the environment.” In “respirometry” tests, whereby experimenters put solid waste in a container with microbe-rich compost and then add air to promote biodegradation, newspapers and banana peels decompose in days or weeks, while plastic shopping bags are not affected.

Even though polyethylene can’t biodegrade, it does break down when subject to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, a process known as photodegradation. When exposed to sunshine, polyethylene’s polymer chains become brittle and crack, eventually turning what was a plastic bag into microscopic synthetic granules. Scientists aren’t sure whether these granules ever decompose fully, and fear that their buildup in marine and terrestrial environments—and in the stomachs of wildlife—portend a bleak future compromised by plastic particles infiltrating every step in the food chain. A plastic bag might be gone in anywhere from 10 to 100 years (estimates vary) if exposed to the sun, but its environmental legacy may last forever.

The best solution to plastic bag waste is to stop using disposable plastic bags altogether. You could invest a few bucks in reusable canvas totes—most supermarket chains now offer them—or bring your own reusable bags or backpacks with you to the store. If you have to choose between  paper and plastic, opt for paper. Paper bags can biodegrade in a matter of weeks, and can also go into compost or yard waste piles or the recycling bin. Of course, plastic bags can be recycled also, but as just explained the process is inefficient. According to the nonprofit Worldwatch Institute, Americans only recycle 0.6 percent of the 100 billion plastic bags they take home from stores every year; the rest end up in landfills or as litter.
Another option which some stores are embracing—especially in places like San Francisco where traditional plastic shopping bags are now banned in chain supermarkets and pharmacies—are so-called compostable plastic bags, which are derived from agricultural waste and formed into a fully biodegradable faux-plastic with a consistency similar to the polyethylene bags we are so used to. BioBag is the leader in this field, but other companies are making inroads into this promising new green-friendly market.

San Francisco’s pioneering effort to get rid of polyethylene bags is a positive step, but environmentalists are pushing for such bans more widely. A California effort to ban plastic bags failed again recently, but will likely eventually succeed. Washington, Florida, New Jersey and North Carolina are watching closely and considering similar laws depending on what happens in the Golden State. Worldwatch reports that taxes on plastic bags in South Africa and Ireland have been effective at reducing their use by upwards of 90 percent; Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Philippines, Taiwan and the UK are also planning to ban or tax plastic bags to help stem the tide of plastic waste.