In my previous post I addressed the challenge of looking outside of the box regarding plastic and paper since it is not possible to eliminate such a widespread use of substance in our society. There are many good merits in both that make it important to maintain them for the time being. Customer negligence and recklessness in consuming excessive bags is a right in America. However, we have the means to create incentives for people to rethink their choices by form of taxation and other methods. People respond to their expectations and supply/demand outcomes. If bags increased in cost such as gasoline, people will respond to that by adapting.

Other approaches are to “outlaw” the use of plastic bags at merchants. However, there are dire consequences and it needs to be assessed for it’s overall impact on not only the environment but the economies in the state of Oregon. 

Recently a bill from the Senate, numbered 536 would outlaw the use of single use bags at grocery stores would seem to be a logical step in the reduction of bag consumption as seeing that it is the number one offender at these locations. 

This has it’s merits but what about the recycling efforts? I have yet to see a real solution that customers have felt responsive towards. The at curb recycling does not allow for disposal of plastic bags because they muck up the equipment at recycling facilities. Some states already operate with a single stream recycling equipment which allows for water usage to float the heavy from the light in plastics but it consumes prohibitively high amounts of water that is needed to sustain human needs.

The point is that governments and people have not addressed enough of the other outlying issues that really could make an immediate impact instead of bickering back and forth about how to eliminate or the choice of one or the other (of which has been going on for some time now with no end in sight). 

I propose that we ramp up with some sort of innovative way to allow for separate pick up of plastic bags at the curbside without increasing significant amounts of man hours by recyclers. I realize that there are economic consequences of such. Or perhaps, implementation of policies that require customers to return a x amount of bags from their previous visit in order to qualify for free bag swaps instead of having to pay for a tax on it. 

We also have a lot of other issues that need to be observed and I am pleased that the bag ban is a step towards making some kind of dent instead of standing around and waiting for something to happen. However, the importance is to assess what immediate impacts we can utilize at this current time. 

The Harm of Paper Bags

            Paper bags come from lots and lots of trees. Companies like Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek Timber harvest them. Kimberly Clark also harvests them. The paper bags have to go through a long process to get to the grocery store, but using paper bags can be very damaging to the environment because of all the different processes that it has to go through before it is a final product. First the trees are found, and then they have to be marked for felling. This causes the land to undergo clear cutting, which in turn, harms the land tremendously.

            Then, to extract the trees from the landscape, big machines have to come in, which damage the terrain and consume fossil fuels, which in turn harm the environment terribly. After collection, the trees have to dry for three years before they can be stripped and then processed by more machinery and chemicals. What is amazing though, is after the trees are boiled down to pulp, it takes 3 tons of wood to make 1 ton of pulp.

The pulp is then washed and bleached and coloring is added to make the paper bag seem colorful later on. The pulp is then dumped onto metal wire structures and then it is rolled into paper. This is how paper bags come into existence and it is obvious that the entire process is very harmful to the environment, thus making paper bags a poor choice.

  "Paper of Plastic?" was a question that was frequently asked in past decades, but is rarely seen today. Plastic bags have proven themselves the true victor of the convenience war, and have taken at least 80 percent of use from paper bags, despite only being introduced in the 1970s. There are several factors for this; plastic bags are extremely cheap and easy to produce, and were seen originally as the ecologically friendly alternative to paper bags. Plastic bags typically cost one-forth that of a paper bag, and consume less space in storage.
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It is estimated that ~100 billion plastic shopping bags are consumed each year in the USA, according to the Wall-Street Journal. Many of those plastic bags end up in landfills, the sea and other places where they don’t belong. Using a reusable bag could significantly reduce the amount of plastic bags consumed around the globe.BYOB, or Bring Your Own Bag, is a strategy that encourages consumers to change their individual shopping habits, and raise awareness to the subject.Here in America, the San Jose Council passed one of the nation’s strictest bans on plastic and paper shopping bags. This ban was made in response to the pressing issue of over million plastic bags per year making their way to the sea in the bay area only. San Francisco and Palo Alto soon joined the cause, as well as ten other US cities.But not only in America such bans have been occurring. Many cities around the world enacted a ban on plastic shopping bags: Modbury (England), Mexico City (Mexico), Rwanda, Rangoon (Burma), Oyster Bay (Australia), Bangladesh and even various cities in India: Delhi, Mumbai, Karwar, Tirumala, Vasco and Rajasthan. Some countries in Europe, such as Italy, Belgium, and Ireland have chosen not to ban plastic bags, but to add taxes on them. Soon after, it has been reported that plastic bag use dropped by 94 percent.Disposable bags have proven themselves to be harmful to the environment, as our poor planet is signaling us to stop. What can we do about it? We can Bring Our Own Bags to the store. Reusable bags are durable, fashionable and pollute less. Next time you go shopping - BYOB.

    About EcoMerge:

    Our commitment in this Portland State University ongoing capstone project is to explore the intersects between economical and ecological systems and inform the reader, four times a year, on different major topical themes. Grocery Bags is the subject of focus on this site.


    March 2011
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