Monday, April 16, 2007

Paper or Plastic? Just so we're clear.

My new best friend Heidi over here pointed out that paper is no better than plastic in the whole grocery bag debate. Lest you all think I'm naive, I realize that my not using a plastic bag has no effect on the number of plastic bags in the world. They are there whether I use them or not. And I know that paper has its cons too. Let's look at the two sides, shall we?

Paper bags are made from trees--trees that are harvested using gas-guzzling, smoke-belching, rain
forest-depleting machinery, then trucked to a factory, where they are turned into paper in an exhaustive process that includes chemicals and more fuel, electricity, etc, etc,...and THEN has to be sent to another factory to be fashioned into bags. Yikes! However, because paper bags can hold more groceries, we use less in the average shopping trip.

Recycling of paper bags is another exhaustive process, but the by-products of it can be used for other products. Paper bag recycling is usually more convenient for most people because there are more facilities that accept paper than accept plastic bags. Also, paper will eventually breakdown in a landfill (although it takes longer than you'd think) and can be used in composting. Bonus--paper bags have many uses in the household. Who hasn't covered a school book with a grocery bag? Ask Faith what I used to fill the gift bag for her housew
arming gift?

Plastic bags are made from petroleum or a by-product thereof. After the actual acquisition of the oil, the process of making bags is less involved than paper, but still uses energy. Plastic bags hold less than paper, so we end up using more. Anyone who's bought bulk canned goods can attest to how they cut into your hands when carrying heavy items. And, I swear they teach Target clerks to only put two items in a bag.

Not all plastic bags can be recycled and many of the bags collected at your local store end up in a landfill anyway, where they will sit forever because they don't break down, although they take up less space in landfills, which I guess could be a good thing. Recycling plastic products is great because it's easy and plastic can be recycled over and over--provided it's recycled in the first place.

So, clearly, the answer to the title question is neither. More people should bring their own reusable totes to the store and use them. I'm just as guilty as the next person. I don't always remem
ber to bring my own. I even started knitting my own, but got side tracked by baby sweaters and hats. I avow that starting today, there will always be a reusable tote in my car. I will finish the bag I started and make more. I will encourage my fellow knitters to make their own. Here are just two patterns I found: one from Lion Brand and one from Knitty.com. If you can't knit, or are just too bogged down with other projects, may I suggest the Planet Bag? These are sold by a nice gal I found on MySpace while internet-stalking her boyfriend (If either of you find this, I'm harmless; I swear. I'm far too lazy to do any actual, physical stalking) and at 3 for $15.00, they're quite the deal and will cover you for most weekly shopping trips.

Okay, this ends my green post for the day. I shall be goofy and cranky again tomorrow. As for the trees, they surrender.


2 comments:

Annika said...

Of the two, I say paper is better because it's a renewable resource. The "plastic is better" people have never given me an argument against this, so I must be right.

Uccellina said...

I bring my own. I'm a damn hippie.