Wednesday, February 3, 2010

No More Plastic Bags!!


by Deborah Mitchell
Plastic Bags

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 for groceries in America. According to Worldwatch Institute, factories around the world manufactured 4 to 5 trillion plastic bags per year. Although many of these bags are recyclable, each year Americans return only 0.6 percent of the 100 billion plastic bags they use 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. Beyond enormous energy costs, 14 million trees in 1999 alone were cut down to manufacture the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans.

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. Take them shopping today!

Break the plastic shopping bag habit. First, get several sturdy canvas or cloth shopping bags that you can take with you to the grocery store. Here are a few sources:

  • Look around the house. Many people have canvas and cloth tote bags stashed away, forgotten, in the back of a closet.
  • Canvas tote bags are often offered as free gifts when you join a club, enroll in a program, or donate to an organization. Ask for a canvas tote for your birthday, Mother's Day, Christmas, or other holiday.
  • Check out thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets.
  • Ask family, friends, and coworkers if they have any extra canvas bags they don't need. Tell them about your plans, and they may want to join you in making a difference!

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. 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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