Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Please Say NO to Plastic and Paper Bags

According to US Census Bureau data, Maui County had approximately 62,000 households in 2005. If you estimate that each household receives an average of 10 plastic bags per week from various sources, a possible 620,000 bags per week could potentially go to our landfill. That’s an astonishing 32.2 million bags per year. And that number does not include our visitor population, so it could easily be doubled.

In March, San Francisco became the first US city to ban plastic bags in supermarkets and drugstores. In 2002, Ireland passed a “PlasTax,” charging customers 20 cents per plastic bag, to discourage use. Many other cities and countries are following suit. Do you know that it takes a thousand years for a plastic bag to decompose, and one month for paper? However, paper is not much better, since producing the paper bags creates a great deal of air and water pollution. It’s time to just say “No” to plastic and paper bags and Maui, with our eco-friendly environment, should be the first county to do it!

It isn’t difficult. Walk around your home and take out your stash of canvas and other reusable material bags. You know you have them – from tradeshows, specialty stores, totes you’ve received as gifts but never used. You might even be surprised how many you have – I found twelve! Put them in the trunk of your car or behind/on the back seat. Take them into every grocery/discount/drug/card/retail/department store you frequent. Say, “No, thank you, I brought my own bag(s).” Clerks will sometimes give you a funny look, frown, say “your bag will get dirty if I put this in there.” It’s OK, they wash. Be gentle, yet firm. Say something funny, like “I’m saving a plastic tree.” You might even get a smile. In a pinch, reuse and recycle the paper and plastic you already have. Pause and think: Do I really need a plastic bag for that one item?

You CAN do it. When I tell people I do this, they say, “Oh, I can never remember to use them.” Do you always forget to put on your underwear or brush your teeth? If you make it a habit, you WILL remember and you will feel good about it, too. Ask your kids/spouse/partner/friend to help you remember. Don’t have any bags? Go to your local store and purchase one or two to start, then purchase one per week until you have five or six, which is enough to package up a full grocery cart. Are you creative? Sew up a few of your own bags in fun colors. They are quick, easy and inexpensive to make, and our local fabric stores have a wide variety of patterns to choose from. It’s a great project for your Girl Scout troup or other group. Why not make up a bunch for a fundraiser?

And retailers, a little help, please? Ask your checkout clerks and helpers to be nice to your customers who use their own bags. Ask them to remember to give your customers the reusable bag credit without being asked, and without having to ask 10 different people for the code in the register. Instruct them to use fewer paper and plastic bags at the checkout – you don’t need to bag a gallon of milk or juice, or a 5lb bag of potatoes. Make it a habit! Consider a promotion to give canvas bags away with a $50 or $100 purchase – stamp your store name on the side for free advertising. Sell good-quality bags at a reasonable price!

You can do it. Say “NO” to plastic and bags. See these links for more ideas:

Check out Robin's great Eco-Bags at Quilt-Antics

More about the UKs use of bags on Anne Wigfull's blog Grains in the Wind


Anonymous said...

I'm all for being earth friendly, but what are they going to outlaw next????? I use plastic bags to carry home things, and I use them again for something else. I suppose I could use paper bags the same way more, but they don't hold in moisture in the same way.
I think this all just gets out of control! Are we going to stop buying fabric? Harsh dyes and chemicals are used to produce them, not to mention a lot of oil.
Maybe the answer is reducing the plastic and paper we use, re-using what we do consume, and recycling the rest? As for fabric, I like muslin, but it is pretty boring without color.

Dianna in Maui said...

Thanks for taking time to comment. I used to reuse plastic bags, too, but decided that I was better off not using them at all. It's not so much about the pollution used to create them (and everything else we consume), but thinking that so many end up in the landfill or blowing into the ocean, creating hazards for our sealife. Here on Maui our reefs are already getting damaged, our landfill is inadequate, and it's annoying to see all these plastic "birds" flying around. Maybe elsewhere it's not such a problem, but here it's pretty serious.

margaret said...

In Australia the use of "green bags" is common - these can be bought form most stores for a dollar, and people keep a load of them in the car for going to market etc. They hold the "right" amount - not enough so they are too heavy to carry, and are a nice squarish shape. They seem to be very well accepted and you see them used (and re-used) a lot. I brought some back to UK as "useful" souvenirs.

ladyra said...

After years of thinking/talking about and admiring people who actually did bring their own bags to the grocery store, I decided to make the committment. I did just what you suggested. I rounded up all the canvas bags I had and put them in the car. I still have trouble gauging how many I will need and invariably have too many; but I will get it right eventually.

But here is a funny. The other day two young cuties were checking me out and were much more interested in their own conversation than my bags.
"Paper or plastic, mam?"
"Neither I have my own bags."
"Oh, OK." (back to chatting with each other.)

As I watched dumbfounded, the one bagging carefully put each item into a plastic bag before putting it into my canvas bag.

I decided I did not have the energy to swim upstream that day so I just took the bags and left. I resolve to continue the effort and will not let that happen again.

And you are right. It gets easier every time. A number of people in line behind me have commented that they wish they could remember to do that. Who knows? Maybe one of them will.