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2007.06.22

Comments

Brianne

I can see that stores are trying their best to offer reusable alternatives, but their employees don't seem to recognize that these bags that they sell can actually be used, even when I'm buying the bags that day. Ralph's has been better than most, but I generally have to interrupt the bagger and take over so they don't put one item in each of my bags and use plastic for the rest. Is anyone else having this problem?

Bureinato

This month I got another tote bag, Vitamin Cottage is giving them out if you by $35 worth of groceries. It's a nice bag from onelessbag.com. And your set of links has me convinced I need to go to my totes all the time. I mostly remember, but need to be a little more dillagent.

drunken monkey

Some grocery chains in Canada are training employees to reduce plastic bag use -- which makes sense, because those bags cost the stores money. For example, a few chains are training baggers to put just one extra item in each bag, which they think could cut their use by 20 percent, and to never double-bag unless the customer specifically asks. The chain I shop at will give you 50 of their customer reward points for every one of their store-brand reusable bags you use with each purchase.

I've never gotten any resistance when I've asked to not use plastic bags at the grocery store. Anywhere else, I've started just taking the items out of the bag and leaving it on the counter when the cashier ignores me and puts it in plastic anyway. I do still forget once in a while though, usually when I'm on my break and don't have a purse with me. In those cases, I at least try to use the same bag for each store I need to buy something at.

Lily

1. Ok. So we stop getting plastic bags with our groceries and use them for our trash. Now we purchase them in bulk from Costco. This is better? I'm still using plastic bags the same number of plastic bags, they've just gone from multiple uses, to a single one. And I've switched to paper at the supermarket and have piles of paper bags which get thrown away.

2. These re-usable bags - like the ones Trader Joes is selling - what happens to them when we're done with them? They are ugly and don't seem biodegradable to me.

3. We replace all the plastic bags with paper bags - I'm not seeing this as better.

4. Not all of us have access to re-usable bags when we are shopping - so we keep on buying re-usable bags, using them once and tossing them?
Or we start putting our trash in the re-usable bags?

Can't we deplore the plastic bags in the ocean w/o agreeing with the proposed solution: removing plastic bags from stores?

Is this either we take your plastic bags away from you or they pile up on a beach in Hawaii?

I'm not on board.


Lisa S.

To answer your questions with a few of my own:

1. If you're using trash bags in lieu of plastic bags, are those bags likely to be washed up on a beach? Not really. So I would say yes, it is better than using the flimsy plastic numbers from Safeway or Kroger's.

Also, you really can't think of other uses for paper bags? You can't use them to hold the paper trash, or to cover children's textbooks, or to turn inside out and wrap a package to be shipped, or you can't just re-use them at the grocery store? Paper bags are eminently re-usable, as much so if not more so than plastic bags.

2. Nobody is making you use one of Trader Joe's El Cheapo re-usable bags. If the re-use and aesthetics are an issue, pay a buck or two more once for one of the cotton canvas bags they sell. Plus TJ's will knock a little off your bill if you do -- at least, ours did.

3. Would you mind explaining why you don't see replacing plastic with paper as better? Why not? Paper dissolves in water, so it's less likely to lead to sewer blockage or animal digestive-track blockage. And it may be more durable for re-use -- lord knows the paper in grocery sacks is more durable than the flimsy plastic.

4. Why don't you have access to reusable bags when shopping, and what on earth would make you buy a re-usable bag and toss it after one use? String bags take up next to no space and you can keep one or two tucked in every one of your purses if you so wish. And how hard is it to remember to keep the tote bags in your car, or to put them back after you get back from grocery shopping? It's no harder than flossing -- just make the habit. And if you're really out and about and you have to have something bagged ... it's not like stores are facing plastic bags or nothing! Get a paper bag.

I'm not on board with your arguments, I'm afraid.

This comes back to the "Oh, hell, no" line. For some of us, it's turning off the TiVo, for others it's not using toilet paper ... perhaps, Lily, your line is drawn at plastic bags.

Antoinette

I'm doing quite well with reusable grocery bags (and requesting paper if I forget them.) It's the smaller plastic produce bags that are killing me. One grocery store trip results in piles of them! But I don't really want my produce touching the nasty cart or conveyor belt.

Does anyone have suggestions for reducing one's use of produce baggies?

drunken monkey

Paper bags can also be tossed in the recycling bin when you're done with them, or if you're not sure how to reuse them. Very few municipalities recycle plastic bags; the plastic is so thin and cheap that there's not much that can be made out of them. Paper bags can also be made of recycled paper. The President's Choice reusable bag in Canada can be returned to the stores where they're sold, and the company will recycle them. The green and beige Whole Foods bags are also recyclable.

If you don't care to use reusable bags, that's your choice, but there are plenty of options.

For produce baggies, a health store near me sells reusable plastic mesh produce bags; I got ten for a dollar. They don't really do much good for greens, but are just fine for stuff like apples, grapes and oranges. Or maybe you could also rinse out the ones you have and bring them to the store? Those ones annoy me too, because they're too small for my garbage can, which is where I use most of the plastic bags I do acquire.

Julie

And for produce with a thick rind or peel that you don't eat, like bananas or oranges, you don't really need a baggie.

Lisa

Sometimes you don't want your oranges rolling around in the cart or getting squashed when the bagger tosses it in the tote -- I see where Antoinette's coming from.

Antoinette -- we're re-using our produce baggies to hold cat poop at the moment, so if you've got a pet, that's one way to reuse something you just can't cut back on. I did order ten of the mesh produce bags Alton Brown referenced in Good Eats and I'm going to start cycling those into use at the farmers' market, so we'll see how that affects our general plastic-bag stash.

(And then I'll have a new problem to solve ... what to put the cats' litterbox leavings. We scoop out the boxes nightly, otherwise Zito gets pissy -- literally -- and I am wondering how to contain the chunks of litter before taking them to the trash.)

Lily

Paper bags can't be put in trash chutes because they break easily, can't be sealed, and the food attracts rats, mice and bugs. So just about everyone in a multi-residence building is going to continue to use plastic bags. The bags will now be purchased in smaller quantities, requiring more packaging, and rather than being used at least twice, will now be used once.

Paper bags will break down quickly in hot, humid climates, attracting dogs, raccoons, cats, squirrels, rats, mice and bugs. If your trash is picked up once a week, you're going to wrap your trash in plastic - again using two bags where one was working before.

Trash containers and garbage bins filled with paper rather than plastic will need to be washed more frequently and with stronger chemicals - increasing the use of water and adding chemicals into the environment.

The alternative to wrapping trash in plastic in cities, large towns, and hot, humid climates is poison and pesticides - I'm not sure this is the direction we want to be moving in.

Paper bags can be re-used, but they are not a one-to-one substitute for plastic. Anything wet or moist will soak through a paper bag, making them virtually useless for milk, juice, fruit or vegetables, or carrying groceries on a rainy day.

I don't think it's a personal issue - a place where I, an individual, draw the line. I think it is a policy issue - as in what is good policy, what makes a good law, what type of government best serves us as citizens, how should policy be written and by whom.

I think banning plastic bags in supermarkets and drugstores is a mis-guided attempt to solve a problem that does exist, deserves our attention, and deserves a solution that will make a difference, one that takes into consideration the issues that the creation and use of plastic bags addressed.

I believe that banning plastic bags is bad policy - driven by emotions and self-righteousness rather than truly thinking through the question "What problems does a plastic bag solve?" and "Is there a way to use plastic bags without also senselessly killing animals?" and "Are there other changes, ones that don't involve legislation, that will also decrease the number of plastic bags in our ocean and on our beaches?" and "Is enforcing this piece of legislation the best use of our limited tax dollars and public personnel?"

Lily

Which is not to say that I don't applaud the steps the people who read this blog are taking. This is one of my favorite reads for this reason.

However, prescribing behavioral changes without understanding the implications - the collateral impact - is risky. Plastic bags provide significant public health benefits - we need a way to preserve the benefits of people using plastic bags while at the same time reducing the damage the misuse creates.

My point is that banning plastic bags from stores doesn't accomplish this.

Lisa

Lily, the points you raise make me wonder: the introduction of plastic bags as the de facto standard for trash is relatively recent. Before that, was there any measurable impact from paper bags -- I mean, have the effects you cited (more cleaning, etc.) been quantified somewhere?

Also, I have to say I kind of resent the implication that my anti-plastic-bag stance is "driven by emotions and self-righteousness." I hope I'm just reading this in an over-sensitive way, because otherwise, I have to take issue with the idea that any of the changes I've been implementing or advocating aren't based on thinking through the effects.

Polly

Whoops, Lisa--you mean Lily, not me.

For my two cents I'll say that the plastic bags I get from the grocery store are so damned flimsy you can't even use them for garbage because they're full of holes by the time they get home. All they're good for is recycling.

Lily

I should clarify - I live in San Francisco and in San Francisco, our Board of Supervisors has pretty much banned plastic bags in supermarkets and drugstores.

In reading over my posts, I see I've collapsed voluntary reducing plastic bag usage (Yay!) and legislating against them (would like this done thoughtfully - and with the benefits of plastic bags taken into consideration).

So, yes let's all reduce our plastic bag usage to the absolute minimum necessary - let's reduce all our consumption of single use products - and let's support each other in participating in Lisa's reduce, reuse and recycle program. It rocks.

And I'd really like to see higher penalties for littering. I was talking about this post over dinner with some friends last night - and someone proposed a stiff community service fine for not disposing of plastic bags properly. Something along the lines of several consecutive weekdays for a first time offender was the popular response.

We thought this handled the advantage of keeping plastic bags in circulation for pandemic and disaster situations where people will need plastic bags handy to dispose of different types of waste products when water may be scarce or unavailable and civic infrastructure might not be available to distribute them as supplies(a real concern here in the Bay Area), while also taking into consideration the horrific impact they have on our environment when they get into our oceans and bays.

Shotrock

Does anyone have suggestions for reducing one's use of produce baggies?

I don't bag anything with a thick rind, as another poster said. (And some that don't, like tomatoes - I just put them on top as I would with eggs. Christ, it's going from the Stop & Shop to the Subaru to the kitchen; I'm not using my grocery bag a la "The Grifters" to beat the shit out of somebody, how damaged can they get?).

And then, I use the baggies for those things that I would normally compost in the backyard if I had one. (I'm a flat-dweller, and composting in my apartment is my "oh, hell no" issue). So for example, I picked up produce awhile back to make ceviche. Afterwards, everything (avocado rinds, small bits of green onion, and shrimp shells) went into the baggie, and TIED TIGHTLY. Then, it can go into my large garbage bag (which only goes out 2x a month; due to massive recycling rules, there's very little "garbage" to begin with) and sit there for a week or more without my entire flat smelling like Fulton Street.

So, there it is: from the produce baggie thou came, and unto the produce baggie thou shalt return.

Antoinette

If I'm buying one or two thick-skinned fruits, I do just place them in the cart. But if I'm buying, say, six oranges, I've always been self-conscious about the time it takes me to remove each one from the cart and place it on the belt, as well as the time it takes the cashier to weigh each one. Having them all together in a bag seemed like it would not hold up the line as much.

And thanks for the tips on the produce bags! I'm going to fold up a huge pile I have accumulated and stick them in my canvas shopping bags so I can't forget them.

Tracy

I'm up to four reusable bags in different sizes; I wouldn't buy another IKEA one as it's not a good shape for the things I seem to buy most. Hands down the best ones are the bags I brought home from Ireland, from M&S and Tesco -- the plastic ban there meant that reusable bags quickly had to get very functional; they have square bottoms and sturdy handles. I'm still working on remembering to keep them in the car and take them into the store with me. I find it's also hard to remember that I do shopping that's not all grocery, so keeping a little one folded in my purse helps me cover small non-grocery purchases when I go into the mall or Target.

I think banning plastic bags in supermarkets and drugstores is a mis-guided attempt to solve a problem that does exist, deserves our attention, and deserves a solution that will make a difference, one that takes into consideration the issues that the creation and use of plastic bags addressed.

Late to the discussion but what this argument fails to consider is that it's working elsewhere: Link to BBC story about how plastic bags cannot be given away free by the markets, and shoppers have handled it just fine, going to re-usable bags.

Lily, I'm with Lisa in that I don't find anything compelling in your points advocating keeping the current plastic bag standards. It's not an issue of no-plastic/all-paper, as you seem to be arguing. People can find what works best for them, and maybe it's a combination of buying the occasional plastic bag in case of emergency, plus carrying re-usable bags, plus occasionally using paper bags and finding good ways to recycle. You know, the whole reduce-reuse-recycle idea.

drunken monkey

The President's Choice plastic bags have solid square bottoms too. So good. I love those bags, y'all.

JulieT

So, there it is: from the produce baggie thou came, and unto the produce baggie thou shalt return.

Good idea, Shotrock. (And well stated--hee.)

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