Many major cities and corporations are cracking down and banning plastic bags in an effort to reduce pollution and save our oceans. But is that really the best approach? While plastic bags are “almost certainly the worst” of all options in terms of ocean pollution, according to Quartz, the issue gets a little murkier when you take other environmental issues into consideration.
As it turns out, canvas tote bags might be less eco-friendly than plastic bags because they’re often made of cotton, which requires more energy and water to produce. According to one study from 2011, a cotton bag’s carbon footprint is 598.6 pounds of CO2, compared to 3.48 pounds for a standard plastic bag made from high-density polyethylene. Researchers concluded that it might actually be better to reuse those plastic bags you get from the supermarket, then recycle them once they’re no longer viable.
Similarly, a 2018 recent study from Denmark found that low-density polyethylene bags wreaked the least damage on the planet of all the different types of bag studied. (However, it’s important to note that ocean pollution was not taken into account in that particular study, and that plastic can still severely harm marine life and ecosystems.) Representatives of Denmark's Ministry of Environment and Food determined that conventional cotton bags would have to be reused 7100 times to match the cumulative environmental performance of a plastic bag. Organic cotton bags are even worse, because those would need to be reused 20,000 times.
So what’s a well-meaning, environmentally conscious consumer to do in the face of conflicting information? To start, Quartz recommends reusing your bags—regardless of whether they’re plastic or cotton—as many times as possible. And if you already own a canvas tote bag, be sure to actually use it to ensure you’re hitting the threshold needed to offset the environmental impact.
Events around the world have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but spring is progressing as scheduled. If you're not lucky enough to see flowers blooming from your window or on safe walks outdoors, you can still watch them from your home.
Web cameras installed around the world are recording flower blooms in real time for the internet to see. Botanical events that would attract huge crowds in a typical year can now be viewed in solitude. If you're missing the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., you can tune into the Bloom Cam, which provides a live look at the National Mall's Tidal Basin as it bursts into color.
The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is closed to the public, but its annual orchid show has been reimagined as a virtual tour. In the video below, senior orchid curator Marc Hachadourian takes viewers through the living exhibit and shares facts about how it was made.
Virtual flower watching is also an opportunity to see blooms on the other side of the globe. Japan's famous sakura trees are now accessible through livestreams.
Your digital nature tours don't need to end with the spring flower blooms. Here are five national parks you can explore online.
A scene from Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018).
Markham Street Films
By now, you've probably already binged Netflix's bewilderingly bonkers docuseries Tiger King (2020). If you're ready to dive deeper into the animal kingdom, there are plenty more documentaries out there. From wildcats to whales, these 10 films will take you on a cinematic adventure around the world, introducing you to captivating creatures and the people who love them.
1. The Tigers of Scotland (2017)
The Tigers of Scotland (2017) brings viewers as up close and personal as possible with a small but mighty feline: the Scottish wildcat. The film delves into the efforts to conserve the disappearing Highland tiger, as well as the history and mythology surrounding the UK’s only “big cat.”
This 2017 Disneynature documentary will transport you to the world’s highest plateau in search of a family of snow leopards. These cats are famously tough to find, so Ghost of the Mountains offers viewers behind-the-scenes footage of what it’s like to track the elusive beasts.
3. Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018)
This delightful documentary takes you deep into the competitive cat show circuit. Both charming and at times cutthroat, the film brings viewers on a journey to see which of the many cool cats and kittens will be crowned Canada's top cat.
Follow along as a National Geographic explorer and photographer embeds with a white wolf pack in the high Arctic. These wild wolves aren't used to seeing people, giving the filmmakers—and audience—an intimate window into the pack's daily lives and familial bonds. In addition to showcasing captivating footage of the animals, the three-part docuseries also features sweeping views of the starkly beautiful Ellesmere Island.
This docuseries, which highlights various dogs and their humans from around the world, celebrates the bond between people and their pups. But it’s more than just a montage of feel-good moments about humankind’s best friend: Each episode tells a broader tale about the human condition, crafting an emotional narrative that pulls at the heartstrings like a puppy tugging on a toy.
These birds will put your dad moves to shame. Watch the male avian performers shimmy, shake, and flash their feathers while attempting to woo their female mates. The documentary, narrated by Stephen Fry, offers a colorful look at the wonderfully wacky world of bird mating rituals.
This documentary follows Hatidze Muratova, one of the last wild beekeepers in a remote village in North Macedonia. She lives with her ailing mother, nurturing a traditional way of beekeeping passed down through the generations and striking a balance between making a living and maintaining ecological balance. But everything changes when a nomadic family settles nearby, threatening Muratova’s way of life. The resulting story is both sweet and stinging.
This 2014 documentary highlights the park rangers fighting to protect the Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla. As poaching and oil exploration threaten the park, the rangers and conservationists risk their lives to guard the rare creatures that inhabit it.
In the 1950s, Harry deLayer bought Snowman, a run-down plow horse destined for slaughter, for just $80 at an auction. Within months, the two were taking the show jumping circuit by storm, launching both horse and rider to new heights. This documentary tells the story of the friendship the two developed, and chronicles their lives both in and out of the competitive spotlight.
The waters around Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest are a haven for whales, who feed and find refuge in the quiet channels. With stunning visuals, this documentary highlights the tension of a community’s push to protect its wild places against the pressures of the ever-encroaching natural gas industry.