Austin recently stopped using plastic shopping bags. That means that when you go to the grocery store, you have to bring your own bags or buy paper bags. The motive behind this is to reduce unbiodegradable landfill waste. That’s always a good thing, but I’m not sure if the designers of this legislation and the supporters of it have thought of all the downside.
Downside 1. Germs. Not everyone is as diligent in cleaning as my sister. :) Reusable bags have to be kept clean. If they don’t there is always the possibility of bringing ecoli, salmonella, general dirt and other nasties to the store with you. Then you flop your bags onto the conveyor belt where your and other people’s food items go. How easy it would be to spread germs from your bag to other people’s food.
Downside 2. Plastic shopping bags are made from propylene. Propylene is a byproduct of oil refining. When oil is refined into gasoline for your car propylene is made. Propylene is used to make Polypropylene, the main ingredient in plastic. Though a wide variety of plastics are made with Polypropylene, there is an enormous amount of Polypropylene to be used up. Shopping bags are a good product to make; they are useful for more than shopping and help to rid the world of a dangerous chemical that would otherwise contaminate the earth. It makes more sense to use them for bags than more throw away water bottles that take much longer to break down and fill up landfills faster.
Downside 3. Other uses, I don’t know about you but I use those plastic bags to scoop cat litter into, I also use them to empty my bagless vacuum refuse into, I use them as bathroom trash can liners, to store stuff in, take on camping trips, put stinky diapers and wipes when traveling, use them for my car trashcan, put potentially leaky packages in them for transport, and cover bowls that would otherwise have no cover. What am I going to do now with my cat litter?
Downside 4. Buying reusable bags. I’ve been looking at the bags available at most stores now and something I’ve noticed. They are made of some sort of plastic fabric. They don’t look as if they are easily cleanable. Sure you can put them in the washing machine, but drying? Forget it, you have to pin them upside down to hang until the inside drys….so now I’m supposed to have a clothes line? I live in an apartment. What I’ve done instead is make some. They’ve turned out pretty neat, but it’s so time consuming. I thought about selling them, but because it takes so long to make one I would have to sell each for 15 dollars just to break even. I doubt anyone would pay that for a shopping bag that is designed for the grocery store.
Downside 5. The optional paper bag. While paper bags are an option in some stores, think of what they are made of. You would think that simple brown paper bags are made from sawdust, but really they are mostly virgin tree pulp. Pulp is made from thin slices of wood. Over 14 million trees were cut down to produce paper bags for American consumers in 1999 alone. The manufacture of paper bags is more poisonous to the environment than the manufacture of plastic bags. The pulping process includes the use of Sodium hydroxide, Sodium sulfide, magnesium, potassium and Ammonium sulfite all powerful chemicals that are mixed with water. This slurry is used to break down the wood fibers. The resultant liquid known as ‘brown liquor’ is extracted then burned and some of the sodium and sulfur compounds are recovered and recycled. Not all of the burn is absorbed by scrubbers, that’s one reason why paper mills smell so horrible.
Summary: I’m a liberal, I’m a tree hugger to some extent, but the usability and convenience of plastic shopping bags, for me, far outweighs the damage they may do. And the damage paper manufacturing does far outweighs the damage manufacturing plastic bags do. Paper making uses trees that are necessary for oxygen and keeping the earth cool and plastic making uses a byproduct from gas production which will be used until we are all out of oil. I will continue using my handmade bags, and throwing my cat litter in paper bags, but that doesn’t mean I’m very happy about it.
Austin is just following a popular trend in America. It may be popular, and politically correct, but that doesn’t mean it’s all that good of a trend.
Links for you:
My etsy page where you can buy my custom made farmers market bags
News about Austin’s shopping bag law