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plastic bags, plastic, environment, recycle, reuse, compost, garbage

Are plastic bags really so bad?

Iadmit to being a die-hard fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon’s writing in that series was superb and memorable. This is why when I thought of this post, the quote “Fire bad, tree pretty” came to mind. Simple, to the point.

Plastic bags BAD, carry your own bags GOOD.

I have been carrying my own shopping bags for over 15 years. It started when my husband and I lived in an apartment. Each time we got a plastic bag from shopping I would put it in a bigger bag until we could find a use for it. Eventually, I had two big garbage bags full of smaller plastic bags. We just weren’t using them fast enough. I had no place to put all these bags. I heard you could take them to thrift stores and they would reuse them for their products but it wasn’t really sanctioned or promoted. Recycling at the time was unheard of. I hated the idea of throwing them out.

So, to stop the tide I started carrying my own bags. At least I wouldn’t be acquiring any more plastic bags. I was a bit of a pioneer in this. No one else I knew was doing it. I started giving away nylon shopping bags as gifts hoping others would stop acquiring bags that were destined for the landfill.

You would have to live in a cave these days to not know that the world is inundated with plastic. There is so much plastic waste that we have islands of it floating in the oceans. Drive down any highway, any stretch of road and you will see garbage caught in the trees and bushes. It’s disgusting, right? So we need to stop acquiring plastic bags that end up floating off in the wind and polluting the world around us. I found a great post from Bright Vibes that supports this belief. The article describes 8 ways you can quit plastic today. Carrying a reusable bag is one of the steps. But then my research journey took me to a Canadian site called All About Bags and I had to stop and reassess. Not because I was wrong all these years but that I was missing some keys facts.

All About Bags is a site put out by the Canadian Plastics industry Association as a “resource tool for the debate about bags”. Though various posts they set about debunking a lot of the myths surrounding plastic bags. For example, plastic bags make up only 0.8% of the litter stream – at least in Toronto, and less than 1% of the waste stream – what ends up in landfills.

Some other interesting tidbits:

  • In Canada, plastic bags are made from Ethane, a byproduct, and the natural gas production line. Durable paper bags are made from virgin forests and take large amounts of energy to produce, not to mention the cutting down of trees.
  • In North America, plastic bags are made locally, 90% in Canada and around 75% in the US
  • Canada has a high rate of recycling plastic bags, over 30% across the country. Which, for recycling, is actually high. Many of these bags are turned into furniture, boardwalks and water pipes.

The essential argument of the site is that plastic bags are in fact better than carrying your own bags because they are not only reusable for a multitude of things including garbage and compost waste but that they can now be recycled. Carry your own bags are often made from non-recyclable materials to make them strong enough for more items and to last longer.

However, there are MANY types of reusable bags. We had some cotton bags that lasted years. We also purchased some grocery bins from a local chain that not only carry more groceries at a time, but they are great for keeping your lemons from rolling around in the back of the car. When I go to the local market for vegetables, I take a handmade willow basket that a friend made.

While I concede that plastic bags are good because they can be reused for wet and dirty objects,  I am reluctant still to say they are “better” than carrying your own reusable bags.

So to recap, plastic bags NOT TOTALLY HORRIBLE in areas where they are put to good re-use and recycled appropriately but carry your own bags are BETTER when they are made from durable and or organic materials.

I would love to see more stores selling reusable bags made out of hemp, the miracle fiber that is even better for the environment than organic cotton. In addition, let’s figure out how to make a plastic bag substitute that is totally compostable.

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