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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/18/09

Becoming responsible to our environment: paper, plastic or cotton bags?

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Message Frosty Wooldridge
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Vince Carroll, Denver Post columnist, wrote a compelling piece, “A tax on plastic bags? Bag it”, in today’s editorial section.  Thank him for bringing up the issue of plastic versus paper bags for shoppers.  Both bags represent horrific waste and environmental denigration.

We need to move out of 20th century of waste and abuse—and create a new paradigm of cotton bag use. I own four cotton bags I have been using for groceries for 28 years.  They’re a bit tattered, but those bags have saved a lot of oil and trees!

The Sierra Club reported that Americans use and toss 90 billion paper and plastic bags annually.  For more sobering information, reported: “Over 100,000 birds and marine life die each year, due to an encounter with plastic debris, much of it plastic bags. In Australia, alone, 80 million plastic bags litter beaches and public spaces. That’s out of nearly 7 billion check-out bags used annually. And because plastic lasts about, oh, say 500 years, when the bird it killed decomposes, the bag is freed to injure another. But don’t go thinking that paper is much better. Oh no!

“It’s been estimated that the US was responsible for the felling of 14 million trees to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used back in 1999. Not a figure that is likely to get any less in the meantime. So no, neither bag is greener. But there is another, that is. And it doesn’t require some nerd in a white lab coat to calculate what it might be. Indeed whole towns in Australia figured it out and declared themselves plastic bag free zones. All retailers are refusing to offer single use plastic bags. Their secret to success - it’s the reusable bag. One you use more than once.”

Should you use paper or plastic?  My answer: neither!  Go cotton!

Thankfully, here in Denver, Whole Foods no longer offers plastic bags, but they do offer paper.  They do offer cotton bags, but don’t mandate a financial incentive to stop using paper. I invite King Soopers and Safeways to move toward total cotton bag use driven by financial incentives.

Where do brown paper bags come from?

The reported, “Paper comes from trees -- lots and lots of trees. The logging industry, influenced by companies like Weyerhaeuser and Kimberly-Clark, is huge, and the process to get that paper bag to the grocery store is long, sordid and exacts a heavy toll on the planet. First, the trees are found, marked and felled in a process that all too often involves clear-cutting, resulting in massive habitat destruction and long-term ecological damage.”

Where do plastic bags come from?

Plastic bags come from oil. In less than 50 years, plastic bags cover the planet’s land and oceans, and plastic products cause the deaths of millions of land and marine creatures. Off the coast of San Francisco, California, three million tons of plastic bags and containers create the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.  Humans add another 2.5 million pieces to that plastic patch daily as they toss their trash.  Today 46,000 pieces of plastic float on every square mile of Earth’s oceans.  It’s pretty sickening and I’ve seen it firsthand.  Thankfully, Oprah reported on that “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” with it being 60 feet deep in places.  It’s humanity’s greatest sacrilege against nature. In a few words, it’d downright sickening and immoral!

In the end, plastic proves deadly, unsightly, disgusting and counter to everything in nature. The faster we stop using plastic containers, the better. Or, we must create a compelling 10 cent deposit law on everything bought in retail stores. The great State of Michigan enjoys such a law for the past 20 years. Their roadways, lakes and streams enjoy pristine beauty.  Why? No matter who tosses their plastic containers, an armada of kids picks them up for that 10 cent reward.

Vince said to “bag it”, but I say, let’s move out of the past, deal with the damage plastic bags create—and move toward cotton bags used at all retail outlets both grocery and mercantile.  The fact remains that humans prove irresponsible and careless. Thus, those of us that care must put into place a system that no longer allows the village idiots among us to toss their plastic.  Even idiots will return a piece of plastic for a 10 cent reward.

When the clerk asks you, “Paper or plastic?”, you can respond, “Here are my 28 year old cotton bags!”

She might return, “Thank you for caring about our environment.”

Oh, and I wash my cotton bags regularly for clean, pristine and responsible usage.

As Vince Carroll might have said, “Bag it in my cotton bags!”

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Frosty Wooldridge Bio: Frosty Wooldridge possesses a unique view of the world, cultures and families in that he has bicycled around the globe 100,000 miles, on six continents and six times across the United States in the past 30 years. His books (more...)
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