What's better: thin plastic shopping bags or reusable sturdy plastic bags? Uhh... neither?
A little part of me dies on the inside every time I see someone at the grocery store not only ask for plastic shopping bags, but also ask to have the bags doubled up because the contents are so heavy. I can't really blame them: the plastic seems to get thinner and thinner every year, but a sack of potatoes still weighs as much as it ever did! The question is, why do some people refuse to get with the program and use those sturdy plastic reusable shopping bags?
There are, sadly, many impediments. For one, reusable bags don't fit into briefcases and purses - forget spontaneous visits to the grocery store on the way home from work, except to amass more thin plastic bags. Those who drive don't fare any better, with reusable bags often forgotten in the backseat or trunk. I've also heard that some people like thin plastic bags because they can use them to line their household garbage bins, thereby avoiding the purchase of brand new bags for that singular purpose. And at least here in Toronto, traditional shopping bags are recyclable with our blue bin program, provided you use one bag to hold all of the others so they don't get lost in the shuffle - literally.
I can think of a few other, less common reasons for disliking reusable sturdy plastic bags, such as the fact that they are made in China. We ship our plastic items around the world to be recycled into reusable bags, then ship the final product around the world again to sell them here at home. Wow. That's one helluva carbon footprint. True, one container ship can hold millions of bags, so each individual bag doesn't carry much of the blame, but we still believe it's important to use CFL bulbs despite their minimal impact when examined individually!
And then there's, for me, the kicker: reusable sturdy plastic bags pile up just like everything else. Ironically, because it seems so wrong to throw them away, I hoard the little buggers and stash them like I'm secretly ashamed of them. The same fate awaits not only reusable grocery store bags, but also the ones that you can get at the book shop, clothing boutique, and shoe store. These days, I don't leave home without one of these purse-friendly reusable bags, so I have a clear conscience, but of course the old bags from years ago are still sitting, barely used, in my closet. Occasionally, new ones are added to the collection when friends bring food and drink with them when visiting me and refuse to take the empty bags back home with them upon leaving. And so the plastic accumulates in one form or another, even in an eco-friendly household, and in trying to generate less waste, the Western world still manages to create waste.
How many reusable sturdy plastic bags are collecting dust in your home, despite your best intentions?
Photo of plastic bag recycling station used under Creative Commons from Sam Felder (flickr).
Photo of plastic bag caught in tree used under Creative Commons from zen Sutherland (flickr).