Paper or plastic


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Old 03-19-08, 12:19 PM
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Paper or plastic

I read a good article this morning about the "paper or plastic" controversy. The best recourse would appear to be reusable bags. (I have some of these market totes. Cashiers make you feel like an extra-terrestrial when you use them, but you know, I just forge ahead. )

Credit to umbra frisk from grist.org and shown on msnbc this morning:

I am beginning to believe that true national environmental consciousness will be heralded by the cessation of this constant concern over tiny little bags. Stop your worrying. Take the energy you spent writing to me and use it to organize your durable bag collection so that you remember to take it to the store. If you forget your bags? Flip a coin. The quantifiable difference between paper and plastic bags is minimal. One trouble with gauging the comparative environmental impact of different products is the lack of a universally accepted evaluative framework. (Another is the participation of industry analysts in environmental impact studies.) Scientists are moving closer to a system called Life Cycle Analysis, but it has gaps and flaws, so folks often develop models for their specific research needs. The result? I might answer your question one way, only to have someone disprove me (or claim to disprove me) tomorrow.

As of this writing, though, it is generally understood that the plastic bag production process generates less water pollution, less air pollution, and less solid waste. Making something out of plastic just seems to be easier than making something out of wood, which goes a long way toward explaining why we have so much plastic packaging today: It's cheap. In addition, and you can bet the plastic industry is cackling over this, the bags take up less space in landfills. As to which manufacturing process uses less energy, they may be equal. It depends in part on whether you calculate two plastic bags for each paper bag, because store clerks frequently double-bag when using plastic. See? Comparative Environmentalism 101 is tougher than you think.

Of course, paper bags trump plastic in the renewable resource realm, being made from trees rather than oil or gas, and being more commonly accepted by community recycling programs. Also, paper bags are biodegradable and far less likely to disturb natural ecosystems in the manner of plastic bags, which have a nasty tendency to be mistaken for jellyfish and wind up doing bad things to the innards of turtles -- to cite just one example.

So the short answer to your which-is-the-lesser-of-two-evils question is that there is no clear lesser, and neither is exactly evil. Picture this scenario: You're driving down the street and your eye is caught by a plastic bag snared in a tree. "Gross!" you think, "Some jerk has been littering again! Those plastic bags are a wasteful, American consumerist eyesore! Turtles are going to die!" Guess what? That flapping plastic bag is a distraction from the much more important, yet all-too-often overlooked fact that you are driving. Driving a particulate-spewing, gas-devouring, pavement-loving machine. And that is the role of the paper/plastic debate for far too many casual environmentalists: an eye-catching distraction from far more threatening concerns.
 
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Old 04-03-08, 11:24 PM
K
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I go by weight, roughly. And it seems that every so often I purchase one item with more packaging - by weight - than all the flimsy grocery bags my family accumulates in one year.

My not so subtle answer to that is, to let the retailer deal with it. I just take the clock radio or whatever out of the box, and leave the styrofoam, bubble wrap, etc. there on the cashier counter. Eventually, retailers must pressure their suppliers to minimize packaging - the suppliers won't listen to anybody else. Retailers will respond to higher operating costs from dealing with unwanted packaging in the stores.
 
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Old 04-04-08, 05:27 AM
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Oh, Kobuchi! How do you know the retailer disposes of this excess packaging responsibly? Your solution, while undeniably creative, is not the best answer, either. You may well be contributing to the problem in the environment.

And oh, I pity you if once you try that trick in the express lane with 9 people behind you, and one of them is late for Bingo or something! You will undoubtedly be drawn and quartered, using crude styrofoam tools, made from your excess packaging!
 
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Old 04-04-08, 07:26 AM
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Plastic bags are re-cycled in my house. None of the retailers here even offer paper, that I've seen. But they all have the 'stuff boxes' to bring your bags back to. As I understand, they recycle them into clothing fibers and new bags? At least I hope they do, not just take the box when full and put it in the compactor.

I also use them like saran wrap for non food applications, like keeping my brush in the fridge while I eat lunch. Or for bagging little presents that the cats leave around for me...lol
 
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Old 04-04-08, 10:46 AM
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Originally Posted by connie
Oh, Kobuchi! How do you know the retailer disposes of this excess packaging responsibly?
I only know they typically have better separation of recyclables than our residential curb boxes. Like separate bins for cardboard, for newspaper, for other paper, for plastics, etc. And failure to recycle in this city earns you a fine.

Every great movement must have martyrs; perhaps it is my destiny to be pelted to death with packing peanuts.

***

Does anybody know about weaving those grocery bags into ...bags?
 
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Old 04-04-08, 04:12 PM
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Kobuchi, you made me laugh until tears sprang from my eyes! A martyr, indeed!

We have many recycling laws and many opportunities to do so, but like almost everything in America....there are too many laws and they cannot be enforced.

Where I live, we pay for trash pickup. The companies supply a receptacle and a recycling bin. On pickup day (lot of different pickup days, because many different haulers...so you can see trash at the curb somewhere in our neighborhood six days a week- lovely.)

Many neighbors do not use the recycle bins at all. Some have no idea what is recyclable and what is not. Our landfill only accepts plastics with PDE 1 & 2...most people don't know that. We can recycle mixed papers, but that is separate from newspapers. We can also recycle glass and aluminum- all in the one small bin we are given.

To the best of my knowledge, not a single person in our county has ever been cited for not recycling.

Oh, now look...you have caught me being serious!
 
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Old 04-04-08, 10:23 PM
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I'll chime in with a few observations (having worked in retail)...

Paper or plastic, bio-degradable.. doesn't matter. It all goes to a landfill, which is designed specifically to shield the contents of the landfill from the environment. That plastic or paper bag that would disintegrate in 30 days in the sun will last many many years in a landfill.

Some stores are now _charging_ for bags.

As for overpackaging and leaving your packaging on the counter... Well no, retailers already deal with that packaging. A large store (such as say, Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, etc) may dispose of hundreds of pounds of packing material every day, from every store. Everything from cardboard (which most recycle) to plastic and foam, stretch wrap, wood, etc.

Manufacturers won't respond until you, the consumer, will accept that product box with a dent, ding or scuff on it, no fancy color print, pictures, plastic windows, etc.

I've seen mop heads, packed in boxes, lined with *tissue paper*, then packed in another larger box and those boxes packed in an even larger box. So that when they are unpacked by the retailer and placed on the shelf the package is bright, shiny and in perfect condition, just like you the consumer demand!
 
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Old 04-05-08, 08:15 PM
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We are like Connie ( EX-GUYETTE ) in our city.
3 different trucks come every friday-Large brown paper bag-grass & tree clippings ( these bags are expensive )
Nice orange bucket ( you have to rent from city ) for plastic,
Newspaper, small pieces of metal, glass,laytex paint cans
( paint dried w/ cat litter ) no oil base pant.
And last the good old plastic garbage bags.
One good thing-we can put out appliances any time & the city will pick up--if we have a large amount of things we have
to call city--they will pick-up---no extra charge.
Construction renovation by Contr,--NOOOOOOOOO
 
 

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