Oh ye plastic baggers, the day of reckoning approacheth?
The other day I dutifully brought cloth bags to the grocery store. While I was chatting with the checkout clerk, a bagger packed things up. “Have a nice day!” she said and smiled, setting the groceries in a cart.
Everything, including my cloth bags, were bagged in plastic.
Serves me right you say? I should bag my own damn groceries? All right. Let’s not anybody not get their danders up. I smiled back and said, “Thank you.”
But there we have it, the plastic grocery bag, icon of American wealth and folly. There is momentum toward banning them. City councilors in our town of 150,000 recently gave the go-ahead for a draft ordinance banning single-use plastic bags. Portland, Oregon, the nearest big city, recently enacted their own plastic bag ban. Others in the club: San Francisco, Austin, the big Island in Hawaii …
… And there is a veritable storm of anger, science, art and righteousness coalescing to defend or do away with the polyethylene prince.
In one corner, the (villainous?) plastics manufacturers …
… represented by Stephen Joseph, who points out that because most reusable bags are made overseas and most plastic bags are made in America, bag bans kill American jobs. He doesn’t believe that consumers use reusable bags as often as they should. The bags get dirty, so people don’t want to use them for food. Also, while plastic is a huge problem on land and sea, it is only a tiny portion of the total waste stream. http://www.sfgate.com/cgiin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/03/INC81LA627.DTL#ixzz1oHFunur4
In the other corner, the bring-your-own baggers …
… like Andy Keller, founder of a multimillion dollar company, ChicoBag, which sells trendy reusable shopping bags. In the photo above Andy is wearing his Monster Bag outfit, made of 500 bags, about the number used per person per year in the US. He tracks laws banning bags and publicizes information about the harm they cause to the environment.
Mr. Keller was recently sued by three plastic bag companies, Hilex Poly Co. LLC, Superbag Operating LTD. and Advance Polybag Inc. for “irreparable harm” to their business. He is philosophical. “When you get sued for trying to make a difference in the world,” Keller says, “you must be doing something right.”
There are controversial studies like this one:
“…a draft report by the Environment Agency, obtained by the Independent on Sunday, has found that ordinary high density polythene (HDPE) bags used by shops are actually greener than supposedly low impact choices.
“HDPE bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and have less than one third of the Co2 emissions than paper bags which are given out by retailers such as Primark.” 2/20/11, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/plastic-fantastic-carrier-bags-not-ecovillains-after-all-2220129.html?action=Popu
The researchers studied seven types of bags and the pollution caused by each of them via extraction of raw materials, production, transportation and disposal. They concluded that cloth bags are less damaging to the environment than plastic if you use them 171 times, but that most use their cloth bags only 51 times. Paper bags? You have to use them four times. This report was scheduled for publication in 2007 but is sidelined while it is peer-reviewed, or perhaps, as bag lovers claim, because of a conspiracy by environmentalists who can’t take the truth.
- There is a question of money. If grocery stores stop offering plastic bags, they will have to have reusables available. Should they charge a lot, making people value them less and thus more likely to throw them away before their 171 uses? Or charge more, and make people mad?
- We can go around and around about public policy and economics, but in the end, common sense must prevail.
We don’t need a new plastic bag for every apple we buy. Most of us have access to washing machines, and can keep cloth bags sanitary. We are, like it or not, part of a waste stream.
Here’s the rule: Use grocery bags 172 times. Yikes! Really? Really. No excuses. Use them for about a year and a half. Nobody is going to be counting for you, not if we want to keep the American Way strong and healthy. Need something for dog poop? Use compostable poop bags. Five bucks for 50. If you can afford a dog, you can afford these.
Need something to line the garbage pail in the kitchen? Newspaper works fine. So does no lining at all.
It’s not easy. Most things ahead of us aren’t. We had a great run with our plastic bags. They are light and convenient and just disappear into the garbage trucks at the end of the week — right to the landfills and the treetops and into albatross gullets.
No need to wait for a city ordinance. Attach yourself to some fine quality bags, and use them. Keep in mind though, you might have to help with the bagging.