What to Use: Paper, Plastic, or Reusable Bags?
Over my lifetime we have gone from using paper bags, to plastic bags, back to paper bags, to reusable bags. But what is really the most environmentally friendly way to carry your groceries and dry cleaning home?
Let’s start with exposing some of the misinformation:
- · Plastic bags create some estimated 300 million pounds of waste a year that fill our landfills and kill our marine and wildlife. According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, plastic bags make up only 0.3% of all landfill space. The Federal Marine Mammal Commissions David Laist has stated “In their eagerness to make their case (against plastic bags) some of the environmental groups make up claims that are not really supportable. David Santillo, a marine biologist at Greenpeace told the London Times “it’s very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. A report dispelling this myth claims fishing tackle and fishing nets as a major cause.
- · Many people think that plastic bags are not recyclable. We have a large container in both our locations for our customers to bring back plastic bags. Greg Smith with Bay Cities Refuse told me that the dry clean plastic bags (#4) is a high grade desirable plastic. Many grocery stores have recycle bins for the plastic shopping bags (#2). These plastics are melted down and reused. Our plastic garment bags are made with 50% recycled material.
- · Paper bags are better for the environment. The manufacturing of paper bags create 2-3 times more greenhouse gases that plastic bags.
- · Reusable bags are more environmentally friendly. Most reusable bags are manufactured in China and imported to the United States. It take an enormous amount of energy to produce and ship these bags across the world. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for a federal investigation into toxic (lead, mercury, and heavy metals) materials in reusable bags. Reusable bags are not made of biodegradable or compostable materials and will eventually end up in the landfill.
The United Kingdom Environment Agency published a life cycle assessment of plastic vs. paper vs. reusable bags. “The study confirms that reusable bags are not inherently better for the environment than plastic bags. Reusable bags have to be used a tremendous number of times to provide an environmental benefit to conventional plastic carryout bags. The reality is that huge numbers of reusable bags are being thrown away before they are used the requisite amount of times.”
My belief is of the same as my grandparents (of a poor 3rd world country). Whichever type of bag you choose to use, use it, then use it again, after that, use it some more, and when you’re done using it, use it again until you can’t use it any more, then use it as a garbage bag one last time. Or even better, don’t use a bag whenever possible. I often just carryout larger items solely (who needs a bag) and put small items into my pockets. Why does this attract strange looks from the clerk and other patrons? It’s how my ancestors did it for thousands of years!
Pacific Heights Cleaners in San Francisco and Sausalito is your
resource for garment cleaning and garment care information.
We are San Francisco and Marin’s 1st Certified Green Dry Cleaner by
San Francisco Environment and the Bay Area Green Business Program.
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