The truth about reusable plastic bags

[…] Los Angeles is the latest American city to ban the use of single-use plastic grocery bags, but experts say their most common replacements—paper and reusable bags—come with environmental and financial costs of their own.

They have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire in other words.

Indeed, some reusable bags need to be used over 100 times before they’re better for the environment than single-use plastic bags. Polyethylene bags need to be used four times, a polypropylene bag must be used at least 11 times, and a cotton bag must be used at least 131 times, according to a study by the U.K. Environment Agency.

[…] “If we are really going to change behavior we need to come up with some other way than relying on shoppers to buy paper bags or carry their own bags,” says Phil Lempert, CEO of grocery information site SupermarketGuru.com. In other words, find an alternative to both single-use “carryout” and reusable plastic, Lempert says.

The widespread use of single-use carryout plastic bags raises significant environmental concerns, according to a 2010 report by professional technical-services company Aecom Technology Corp ACM, -0.73%  . It cited the short and long term adverse effects to marine ecosystems, solid waste management, global resource consumption and litter. In most instances, a switch to reusable bags provides the greatest environmental benefits, the report found, “if used at least a minimum number of times.”

[…] People may not want to carry food in the same bag for extended periods for fear of contamination, experts say, although cotton bags may be the most easily washed and reusable.

Another problem: Many reusable bags being sold at the country’s major retailers are imported. Wal-Mart WMT, -0.16%  sells reusable bags with slogans like “A little green goes a long way.” In fact, many have also come a long way—over 7,000 miles. Wal-Mart’s standard reusable bag (50 cents) is made in China. Whole Foods has a variety of 99-cent “Better Bags” that are made from 88% recycled materials, but they’re not exclusively made in the U.S.[…]

Home Depot HD, +0.07%  also touts a store-branded orange nylon tote (99 cents), which is made in China. And Trader Joe’s polypropylene reusable bags (99 cents) are made in Vietnam.

[…] Paper bags are biodegradable, but some experts say cutting down trees is no answer either. Some 46 million tons of paper and paperboard were recovered in 2011—a recycling of almost 66%—and accounts for over half of all recyclables collected in the U.S. by weight, according to the government’s Environmental Protection Agency. That includes all paper, of course, and not just bags. “By volume, it’s still enormous,” says Joshua Martin, director of the Environmental Paper Network, a global coalition of over 100 nonprofit organizations. Still, Martin welcomes the move away from plastic bags in L.A. and elsewhere, and favors a surcharge for each paper bag to encourage more people to think twice—and then some—about recycling. “You won’t find a whale washed up on the beach with its belly full of paper,” he says, “so I support the ban.”

-marketwatch

Paper bags should be the answer since trees are a renewable resource and paper is biodegradable and doesn’t kill marine life like plastic bags. It is a pity that extremist Greenies like Martin want to penalise people for using the less convenient and less strong paper bags. It feels like a lose-lose situation. Even when you try to make an environmentally friendly choice the Green police (in L.A at least) are still going to charge you for it.


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