Every few years, the topic of banning plastic grocery bags comes up in Park City. I’ve never been a fan of the potential ban. It inherently made sense to my thick skull that plastic bags were bad and other forms of bags were better, but I could never understand how that would work for all of our visitors. I also never understood why we were trying to ban plastic bags and not banning plastic water bottles, which many consider a worse “environmental offense.”
This weekend a reader sent in an article from the Atlantic called Are Tote Bags Really Good for the Environment?. Basically, the story cites research from the UK stating that:
- Plastic bags require very few resources to manufacture and transport
- Plastic bags produce less carbon, waste, and byproducts than cotton or paper bags
- When looking at carbon, a paper bag would need to be used 7 times, a polypropylene bag would need to be used 27 times, and a cotton bag would need to be used 327 to equal the carbon cost per plastic bag.
- While people buy polypropylene totes, use paper bags, etc. only 10% of people do it regularly, leaving the reusable bags to sit in their cupboards while they get additional plastic bags.
- Conventional plastic bags made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE, the plastic sacks found at grocery stores) had the smallest per-use environmental impact of all those tested.
It is true that plastic grocery bags mess up our landfills and THEY CANNOT GO IN OUR RECYLCE DUMPSTERS (because they gum up the works) but it is likely they are a good choice for our grocery stores.
By all means, if you can commit to using polypropylene reusable bags and ALWAYS have them with you and ALWAYS use them, that is probably the best choice. However, if you are like many of us, then plastic bags aren’t necessarily the worst choice. As the Atlantic article says, if you want to be environmentally conscious just try to use every one of them twice. Bring home your groceries and then use it in your trash basket…. or for dog poop. Better yet take them with you to Smith’s once a month and recycle them. That way it will become decking, playground equipment, or something else useful.
So, don’t feel bad about using a plastic grocery bag, especially if you can find secondary ways to use the bags (or are willing to recycle the bags at one of our local supermarkets). In many ways, in the real world, using a plastic grocery bag (TWICE) is superior to other alternatives.