On the Friday edition of ABC’s “20/20,” Diane Sawyer stood in front of an ABC generated visual aid: A gigantic mound of plastic bags and paper towels.
With no sense of irony, the ABC host then proceeded to lecture viewers on waste and the need to use cloth bags at the supermarket. Referring to plastic bags as “plastic flowers,” Sawyer intoned, “They can take up to 1,000 years to degrade in landfills. So tomorrow, use a cloth bag at the grocery store, and let the trees have some real flowers.”
Of course, the ABC host offered this helpful advice right after another segment on inefficient Americans and the amount of paper towels and plastic bags they dispose of:
Sawyer: “Look all around me. And if every household replace just one of the rolls with a recycled roll, we'd save almost one million trees. And then think of the plastic bags we all use. Do we really need to use all of them? We go through an average of 18,000 plastic bags, each of us, over our lifetimes.”
Sawyer quickly added that, “Before you write to me, we are going to be giving the paper towels and also the plastic bags to charity to be used.” However, considering that all the paper towels had to be taken out of their wrapping (Did ABC recycle them?) and the plastic bags all appear to be tightly tied off (What charity will be using those worn bags?), it’s not clear that ABC is exactly leading by example.
Lecturing Americans on their use of plastic bags isn’t a new phenomenon. In January of 2005, NBC’s “Today” show featured a segment that approvingly noted how San Francisco was considering a 17 cent tax on usage of plastic bags. As the MRC’s Brent Baker noted in a CyberAlert from January 26, 2005, co-host Matt Lauer and (then) co-anchor Katie Couric seemed to approve of the concept:
From the couch, Couric admired the goal of eliminating paper and plastic bags: "That's interesting. We were saying people should bring maybe canvas bags or those big sort of net bags. I think they use those in Europe a lot right?"
Lauer, sitting beside Couric: "They do that a lot, yeah."
Curry: "In, in New York you see a lot of people driving little wheeled, you know, sort of carts. So, you know, really maybe we should think about that again."
Couric, with finger to her cheek: "Hmm."
Lauer: "Hmm. Something to ponder."
For Diane Sawyer, the plastic bag segment wasn’t her first lecture about American wastefulness. Earlier that day, as part of an Earth Day themed show, the “Good Morning America” anchor hosted a segment on the massive consumption of the United States.
A transcript of the “20/20" segment, which aired at 10:18pm on April 20, follows:
Diane Sawyer: “Come with me. I want to show you something about all of us in America, where we plow through so much paper, so many trees. On average, every one of us will use, in our lifetimes, 2,025 rolls of paper towels. Look all around me. And if every household replace just one of the rolls with a recycled roll, we'd save almost one million trees. And then think of the plastic bags we all use. Do we really need to use all of them? We go through an average of 18,000 plastic bags, each of us, over our lifetimes. And before you write to me, we are gonna be giving you the paper towels and also the plastic bags to charity to be used. But think of it this way, if you take all of the land on the Earth and divide it among all of the people on the Earth, each of us has four acres in our custody. So what do we wanna leave behind on our four acres? Trees or plastic bags? Still ahead, what is the single biggest thing the experts say that we could all do that would have the most dramatic effect on the planet tomorrow? We're gonna be telling you that. And we want to know what you think it might be. So send us an e-mail. Take your guess. But coming up right now, another instant gift to give the planet. No wonder they're everywhere, in our trees and fields, those stray plastic flowers. More than 500 billion plastic bags are distributed annually. You use them for just 25 minutes and less than 3% are recycled. They can take up to 1,000 years to degrade in landfills. So tomorrow, use a cloth bag at the grocery store, and let the trees have some real flowers. Lose the plastic bag.”