Canvas totes better than plastic

Published 11:39 pm Wednesday, July 9, 2008

By Staff
If you bring home the plastic, you should find a way to recycle it.
According to the Society of the Plastics Industry based in Washington, D.C., compared to paper grocery bags, plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes.
However, unlike paper bags, once created they're virtually impossible to be rid of, and I don't just mean the pile in your pantry.
According to data released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 on U.S. plastic bag, sack, and wrap consumption, somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Of those, millions end up in the litter stream outside of landfills - estimates range from less than one to three percent of the bags.
Production of these bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both non-renewable resources that increase our dependency on foreign suppliers.
In a landfill, plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to degrade. Too often, they are scattered about our planet. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of sea creatures die every year because they mistake bags in the water for food, which can choke them or block their intestines when swallowed. On land, cows, goats and other animals can suffer similar fates from ingesting the cheap, handy bags we use so freely.
And let's face it: We might use them again, but we're not really good about getting them recycled. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that only about 4 percent are recycled.
Even then, it costs $4,000 to process and recycle a ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
In other parts of the world, concern about the problems caused by plastic bags and a distinct distaste for litter have led countries to heavily tax the use of the cheap totes, while others have banned them outright.
Judging by the recent appearance in big box stores of fabric shopping bags, the trend is expected to catch on here. If you haven't tried getting your groceries home with these new bags yet, I highly recommend it. One shoulder tote holds the equivalent of four, maybe five plastic bags. And it's much easier to put a tote on each shoulder than it is to get two hands full of plastic bags into the house. It's much more convenient than I thought it would be, and it makes life easier, too.
Unless otherwise noted, data cited is from National Geographic.
Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Andalusia Star-News.