Sunday, April 4, 2010

Shopping bags

This post is dedicated to a little item that frustrates me endlessly: "disposable" shopping bags.

No one needs disposable bags. Chances are you've got at least ten plastic bags floating around your house. I know I do and I don't even use them. I have no idea where they come from. They litter our streets, clog up streams, and they don't even biodegrade. They'll be on this planet even after your unborn great-grandkids are gone and you don't even need them. Oh, you use paper? That's not much better. Paper comes from trees and all that wood needs to be cut down, processed, made into bags and then shipped to you. You're paper bags may have been cut from trees in South America, shipped to china to be made into bags, then shipped to California to a distributor, before being shipped all over the country.

I can't even begin to share with you my frustration with people who come into the bookstore, buy one little book and say they need a bag. It's just one little paper bag. It doesn't even have handles! I resist the urge to tell them, "Carrying that book in a paper sleeve is no different than just carrying it in your hand." So if you refuse to re-use bags for shopping, at least don't ask for one when you've made a purchase small enough to be carried, or thrown into your freakishly large purse. You carried that item to the register, I'm sure you can make it to your car.

To help you understand the seriousness of the situation, here are some insane facts:

  • Consumption rate is now estimated at well over 500,000,000,000 (that's 500 billion) plastic bags annually, or almost 1 million per minute.
  • Americans use over 380 billion plastic bags per year
  • Americans throw away approximately 100 billion plastic bags per year (what they do with the other 280 billion is beyond me)
  • It takes 1000 years for polyethylene bags to break down
  • Approximately 1 billion seabirds and mammals die per year by ingesting plastic bags
  • Worldwide, an estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year. Tied end to end that’s enough to circle the earth 63 times. In case you didn't get that the first time, we can circle the planet with plastic bags 63 times EVERY YEAR
  • For more numbers and general information, go here, here, or even here.

Think paper bags are the solution? Think again!

  • Paper bags are made from wood, a renewable material, but more energy goes into producing them than plastic bags.
  • Paper bags are biodegradable, but many still end up sealed away in landfills and will not biodegrade. This is true of most waste in landfills due to lack of water, oxygen and sunlight.
  • Paper bags generate 70 percent more air and 50 percent more water pollutants than plastic bags.
  • But if that makes you think plastic bags are better than paper bags then let me remind you, we can circle the planet with plastic bags 63 times EVERY YEAR
  • More on paper bags here andhere.

Please, please, please think about these numbers next time you go to the grocery store. It's so easy to have reusable bags in your car at all times. Many grocery stores even give you a discount for bringing your own bags, so they'll eventually pay for themselves. And for one more interesting thought, my co-worker Sarah told me that if she ever forgets her reusable bags in the car or at home, she just piles her groceries back into her cart and brings the whole thing out to the car. Then she'll beg them up to take them inside. That's dedication!

For a great look at where bags come from, check out this article

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