Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ban the Bag!

What do Leaf Rapids, Manitoba and San Francisco, CA have in common? [And as of January 2008, China.] Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, and San Francisco, California, are each the first municipalities in their respective countries, Canada and the USA, to ban plastic grocery bags. You probably all know where San Francisco is, but just in case you're not familiar with Leaf Rapids, it's 980 kilometers NE of Winnipeg. Plastic bags are no-nos on both the sourcing side (made of petroleum, a non-renewable resource) and the discard side (they take 1000 years to degrade, litter the roadside, and endanger marine wildlife, among their many negatives. They are rarely recycled, so they wind in landfills, or stuck in trees.)
I love that the hamlet of Leaf Rapids (pop. 550) and the city of SF are using policy to change behavior. San Francisco is giving stores 6 months to transition to compostable plastic bags, and of course will still dispense paper. (Since I just bought stock in Metabolix, compostable plastic, I'm all set to benefit from this law!) Supeprmarkets have been afraid to charge for bags, even though that is what motivates people to change their habits. It always irks me when supermarkets don't credit me when I bring my own motley collection of cloth bags, since it saves them money; paper bags cost about $.05 and plastic bags cost about 1 cent a piece, and most often they double bag, or put so little into a plastic that it's the equivalent. The best is I can do locally is ShopRite which credits the princely sum of $.02 per bag if you bring your own. Hardly a motivator, unless you are truly an eco-maniac. Our food co-op charges for the paper bags, but provides boxes for free, that would have to be hauled away. It is rare to see folks paying for the privilege of a bag, but of course they're more eco-focused than the mainstream. Lately supermarkets seem to be cutting back on paper bags altogether. (That's one thing people love about Trader Joe's and WholeFoods, their great paper bags!)
I first heard about reusuable bags in 1970 during the first Earth Day celebrations, and saw them in Israel in the 70's where folks went to the Shuk with string bags which when collapsed are tiny.
By now I have quite a collection of cloth grocery bags which I keep in my car. My favorite bag is the size of an old-fashioned brown bag, made of vinyl which keeps its shape, with handles. When a bag is heavy enough to keep its shape, it makes loading it full of groceries much easier, since you can use both hands to pack them. A flat bottom is crucial. Think how well-designed the humble paper bag is. I have many bags which were freebies and are less well-suited to the task. Last year WholeFoods distributed free bags which are very attractive, but unfortunately are too flimsy and too deep to be very useful. When I walk to the market, I just use a backpack.
It's not worth it, IMHO, to use poorly designed reusable bags, because they will annoy you every time you use them. Good bags are a luxury which is worth it. Since reusing bags is helping the environment, why not go an extra step and source them from hemp, a eco-superior fabric, since it requires fewer resources to grow?

1 comment:

verena said...

I wholeheartedly agree with using reusable bags for shopping. Every time I buy something lately I am so annoyed with the *expensive* bag they stuff it in, the occasional other stuffing, and all of the packaging on the items. I recently bought 8 good quality shopping bags from reusablebags.com and I keep them in my car. I took them to the grocery store for the second time the other day, and the bagger just didn't get it. He had never seen such a thing before. Yesterday I had to pick up a new hard drive for my computer and a few other things and the cashier tried to stuff my three small boxes into a larger box. I told her to keep the box. "Are you sure? Do you want me to put it in a bag?" No. I don't want anything I have to take home and throw away.