February 2, 2010

Just say ‘no’ to plastic and paper – bring your own bags until lawmakers – and voters – get the courage to act

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Just say no.

To paper and plastic.

An Oregon lawmaker is backing legislation to ban plastic bags. A big fight is shaping up, with plastic bag makers pointing to the  harmful effects of paper, and asking ‘who can say paper is worse than plastic?’ In Seattle last year, rita_hibbardwebvoters bowed to big spending by big plastic and chemical interests and voted down a proposal to  impose fees on all disposable bags.

The Oregon battle, a long shot to begin with, will be a tough one, marked by rhetoric and big spending by corporate interests that have derailed similar efforts around the nation. Expect that to continue. Why? Because nationwide, grocery stores and pharmacies go through about 92 billion plastic bags a year, compared to about 5 billion paper bags.

“The plastic industry … will try to win local battle by local battle,”  Marc Mihaly, director of the environmental law center at Vermont Law School, says of such contests. “They will intimidate where they can. If they can’t intimidate … they will try to influence legislators.”

But all of us could make the decision ourselves, and just bring our own re-usable bags. Yeah, it’s hard to remember.  And really annoying to carry five oranges, a jar of honey and three cans of dog food out of the store with no bag. But, sigh, we could save a lot of money and energy and advertising brochures headed for the landfill if we just said ‘no.’  To non-reusable bags, that is.

The Oregonian’s Scott Learn writes that State Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, wants to ban plastic bags at stores, because:

“They contribute to litter, are minimally recycled, regularly gum up recycling sorting machines, harm marine life and are made from fossil fuels. “I don’t think people understand the true cost of these bags,” Hass said.

On the other side, studies have shown that paper bags use a lot of nonrenewable energy and water, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and acid rain. Paper bags, for example, take about 40 percent more energy to manufacture. But they’re easier to recycle in most locations.

Public bans or fees to limit the use of all disposable bags help spur use of reusable bags. In South Australia, where a ban on plastic bags has been in place for six months, 82 percent of the public believes it has helped keep bags out of the landfill.

In the U.S., cities are beginning to take action.  Twelve, including San Francisco, have banned plastic bags, and Washington, D.C.,  imposed a five-cent fee on single-use bags Jan. 1. The plastics industry has taken the approach of filing suit against governments and government regulations when bans or limits are sought on plastic bags, as they successfully did last week in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Just remember this: your plastic bag will outlive you by many, many years. It has a life-expectancy of about 1,000 years. Your paper bag? One month in a landfill.  Your plastic bags required petroleum or natural gas in its manufacture. They collect in our waterways and choke marine life and birds. In addition to releasing more greenhouse gases and air and water pollution in their manufacture, paper bags require more energy to transport. So don’t choose paper or plastic.

Choose to re-use, and just say no to high-priced, corporate advertising campaigns designed to win your hearts and minds.

— Rita Hibbard

One thought on “Just say ‘no’ to plastic and paper – bring your own bags until lawmakers – and voters – get the courage to act

  1. You are dead on! Single use carry out bags are a human habit of convenience. We can break that habit and learn a new one: reusable bags. A plastic bag is permanent thing for a temporary use. Lasting 1000 years, we use it for less than a 1000 seconds (12 minutes on average). Great post!