Last February, I posted about my conversion to replacing my wanton consumption of flimsy, disposable bags by using (and re-using, and re-using) my own tote bags.
So far, I've been doing pretty well.
I'd say I've cut down by about 90% on my personal consumption of those white plastic enemies of the environment. And my tote bags are holding up pretty well, thank you.
But I have to admit that I miss having at least a few of those little plastic suckers around. They're convenient for bagging up yucky garbage (slimy chicken fat, anyone?). They're good for bagging up a burnt out lightbulb so it doesn't get all shardy in the garbage bag. And they're useful for lugging a small thing you want to give someone else (without giving over your own precious tote bag). So I'm okay with the fact that PeaPod, which we do a bulk order from every couple of months, brings everything in those bags. So I get to keep the nice cotton tubular white-plastic-bag holder my mother got me - the one with the cheery apple print - stuffed. (I really do hate to see that plastic bag holder, hanging there all limp and forelorn.)
Mostly (and smugly), I no longer take bags at CVS, Staples, or the grocery store. (Ah, virtuous me!)
Thus, I was interested to read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, "Inconvenient Bag," that described just how darned hard it is to be a friend of the environment. (Note: access to this content may require a subscription.)
Alas, the writer tells us, the reusable shopping bag is not so green, after all. (I will note here that I only have one of these - from Whole Foods. My principal shopping bags are nylon totes that I'm hoping are a little longer lasting and tree-hugging.)
For all the "environmental slogans" printed on them,
... well-meaning companies and consumers are finding that shopping bags, like biofuels, are another area where it's complicated to go green.
And that's not just because they're not biodegradable. (Because they're heavier, once you do dispose of them, they linger longer in all those steaming, heaping landfills of our nightmares.) And not just because some of the reusable bags (gasp) aren't made with recycled materials.
Finding a truly green bag is challenging. Plastic totes may be more eco-friendly to manufacture than ones made from cotton or canvas, which can require large amounts of water and energy to produce and may contain harsh chemical dyes. Paper bags, meanwhile, require the destruction of millions of trees and are made in factories that contribute to air and water pollution.
Many of the cheap, reusable bags that retailers favor are produced in Chinese factories and made from nonwoven polypropylene, a form of plastic that requires about 28 times as much energy to produce as the plastic used in standard disposable bags and eight times as much as a paper sack.
Hmmm, I do believe that my Whole Foods reusable is in that nonwoven category. I guess I'll just have to make sure I use it at least 28 times before it falls apart. I haven't been counting, but I'm sure I've used it a dozen times at least.
But mostly reusable bags don't work because a lot of people don't actually reuse them - a figure cited in the WSJ article is that only 10% of people reuse bags. (I am reminded of the novelty tune of my youth: "My Boomerang Won't Come Back." The trick: "If you want your boomerang to come back, well, first you've got to throw it.")
The good news is that if you do reuse a reusable at least once a week, you can replace 100 plastic bags a year.
Reusable shopping bags have replaced other sorts of swag among the smart set. Google distributed some at a recent conference, and the Sundance Festival did as well.
These swag bags will come in handy for any San Franciscans or residents of Westrport, CT (Westportians? Connecticoots?) who attended either conference or Festival, since both those places have banned the use of the plastic flimsies. Whole Foods doesn't use them, nor will Ikea,which will:
... discontinue their use, forcing customers to carry their purchases to their cars, bring bags from home or buy the chain's 59-cent reusable blue plastic substitute.
Which was the way in which the late lamented Spag's - a discount emporium outside of Worcester - used to operate. You went to Spag's for work clothes, hand mixers, paint, drills, toothpaste, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, Candy Land, tapestries, whiffle ball bats, brass planters, nuts and bolts - and for entertainment.
Spag's in its hey-day was cash and carry - and the carry was literal. Spag's merchandise was piled up all over the place, and people would empty out a carton of say, deodorant, leaving all that Ban Roll-on in a neat (or not so neat) pile, and using the carton to hold their foot powder, tube socks, and loose screws.
Before Spag's went out of business - breaking the hearts of everyone who had every lived in Worcester County - they had started taking credit cards, and started issuing plastic bags.
The real death knell was the death of Spag himself, but I'm sure this transition to credit cards and plastic bags helped hurry along the store's demise.
Here they were, on the side of the future - no plastic, squared. Then, whammo, they embrace modernity: the credit card, the plastic bag. And they're gone.
Spag's aside aside, I'm going to keep toting my totes with me.