Plastic Bags? Bring Canvas Shopping Bags Instead
Plastic bags begin their lives as natural gas or other petrochemical substances, which are finite, polluting, and increasingly expensive resources.
The next time a grocery clerk asks, "Are plastic bags okay?" why not reply, "I'll use my canvas shopping bags instead, thank you.
"Paper or plastic?" has become as commonplace and casual as "Have a nice day." But there's nothing casual about the use of plastic bags and paper bags. According to Reuseit.com, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year around the world, which is about 1 million plastic bags used every minute. In 2008, more than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks, and wraps were discarded. In the United States, Americans go through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. Although many of these bags are recyclable, each year Americans recycle only 1 to 3 percent of them and toss the rest.
Are paper bags better? Let's compare paper and plastic. Plastic bag production requires 40 percent less energy, results in 80 percent less solid and 94 percent less waterborne wastes, and generates 70 percent less air pollution than the manufacture of paper bags. Plastic bags also take up less room in landfills.
But many plastic bags are littered or fly away, where they clog up sewers and waterways, become entangled in vegetation and fences, and get caught in the throats of animals. Plastic bags are found in the stomachs of sea turtles and on the shores of remote islands. Once plastic bags are in the environment - whether in a landfill or polluting a lake - it can take hundreds of years for them to decompose, and they contribute toxins to the soil and water as they do.
And paper bags? Although they are more likely to be recycled (about 10 to 15 percent), the environmental impact is staggering. To make 100 million paper bags using one-third post-consumer recycled content, you would need about 15,100 barrels of oil plus other energy sources, such as hydroelectric power and nuclear energy, according to the Reason Foundation.
On the other hand, canvas bags are strong and reliable, don't tip over, hold more than plastic bags, and are good for the environment. Make sure you wash them frequently along with your laundry and hang them out to dry. Take them shopping today!
I Did This!
Break the plastic shopping bag habit. (China did: the government in China issued a nationwide ban on plastic bags on June 1, 2008. And San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban non-biodegradeable plastic bags in 2007.) First, get several sturdy canvas or cloth shopping bags that you can take with you to the grocery store. Here are a few sources:
Next, keep canvas bags in your car and, if you have a few extra, some by the front door or the door to the garage. After you use the bags for groceries, fold them and place them near the door so you can pick them up on your way out. You’ve heard of an umbrella holder, so why not a canvas bag holder? An attractive wicker basket or other container by the door can do the trick. It's also a good idea to keep a few extra canvas bags in the trunk. Never leave home without them!
Here's a way to teach young children the value of recycling too: if your grocery store offers cents back for each canvas bag used, let your children collect the pennies and nickels you get back. It pays to protect the planet.
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