Remember the question, “Paper or plastic?” A few decades ago, that little question could set off an argument. Today, many people are opting for “neither” and going with reusable bags. That’s a good thing for multiple reasons from the environment to money and beyond. What if everyone used their own? Here are some facts about reusable bags to answer that question.
Pretty much everyone is against plastic today. Though some stores still use them, some cities and even states have enacted plastic bag bans. Here are a few facts about plastic bags that may tell you why:
Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags every year and that number has already been reduced, so it used to be higher. If only one-quarter of the families in the U.S. cut out the plastic and took reusable bags for one shopping trip each month – our use of plastic bags would go down by 2.5 billion a year. Imagine what would happen if no one got plastic bags at the store? Some cities are already finding out.
Paper was phased out in the 1980s but saw a return within the last 10 years. As people became more aware of the problems with plastic, some reverted to old habits with the brown paper bag. Wouldn’t it be better if we switched to reusable bags? We have to change our habits anyway – why not make a complete change? Here are a few facts about paper bags.
A single bundle of paper grocery bags weighs about 150 pounds and requires about 8 trees to make them. Wood isn’t the only thing either, add about 700 gallons of water and a whole slew of chemicals that can contaminate the environment. If you think recycled bags consume less resources, not really. They are harder to produce – and most of the “recycled” material was trimmings from other new, paper products.
Sticking to the single-use paper bag because your area has recycling doesn’t really hold water (or groceries) either. Paper that goes in the recycling bin can only be used if it isn’t soiled and it can only be used for certain things – like paper packing. In addition, the cellulose in paper products have a limited lifespan and can’t be recycled forever.
Plastic has a much darker story. It is…plastic. Plastic comes from petroleum, requires toxic manufacturing conditions and toxic recycling procedures. It doesn’t degrade – at least not in our lifetime. Only a small fraction of plastic bags make it to the recycling station – and even fewer of those actually get recycled because plastics are difficult to deal with and the U.S. doesn’t have the right kinds of plastics facilities. Most plastic for recycling gets shipped to China and a lot of the trash is lost at sea, creating giant garbage islands.
The fact is, that even if you recycle everything, a lot of your single-use bags end up in the landfill.
If every adult in the U.S. stopped accepting single-use bags, we would eliminate a good portion of our trash. Reusable bags can be used hundreds, thousands of times. There are specialty bags with insulation, heavy duty bags that safely hold a lot more groceries and many can be wiped down or thrown in the wash. Even the least expensive, non-woven plastic bags can last for months and when you have to throw one of those away – it’s just one bag, not 500 or even 10.
If your city hasn’t banned plastic bags, they will. If they still allow paper bags, eventually they won’t and if they don’t make the decision, your state may make it for them. Over half of the states in the U.S. already have bans or are considering them. You might as well start changing those habits right now.