Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What, Me Worry?

John Tierney's column today, "10 Things to Scratch from Your Worry List" does our planet a considerable disservice.

OK, yes, it's true we don't need to worry about sharks (we never did), and local produce may not be all its cracked up to be. (Eating in season is still best, but it's more complicated.)

But what bothers me about this column is #5, "Evil Plastic Bags."
5. Evil plastic bags. Take it from the Environmental Protection Agency : paper bags are not better for the environment than plastic bags. If anything, the evidence from life-cycle analyses favors plastic bags. They require much less energy — and greenhouse emissions — to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills.
It's as though he's being willfully ignorant -- for if you follow the link to the EPA page, you know what they recommend? Bring your own bag! (Don't believe me? Click the link.) While plastic may require less space and less energy, they are also made from petroleum, which unlike trees, does not spontaneous grow from the ground.

In short, the evidence only marginally favors plastic bags in my opinion, and overwhelmingly favors the option of cotton canvas tote bag instead. Or reuse your plastic bags, if you can; I find that mine tend to rip well before the eleventh reuse, which is the point at which you have "broken even" by some reckoning. My bags of choice for regular grocery shopping are a combination of little green Stop n Shop bags and two long-handled canvas tote bags. (Long handles are good for slinging over shoulders.) If I was in the market for another bag, I might get this one. It's pretty! I keep extras in the car; I have a large canvas bag that can hold three six-packs of bottled beer (tested yesterday) among others.

Bring your own bags; then you don't have to worry about plastic bags or paper bags. And your groceries will taste better.*

*Note: groceries may not actually taste better.


aliza said...

wow. that whole article is awful...there are a couple valid points. but all the other ones, he basically takes one side of an issue for which the science is not yet definitive, and dismisses the other side as crazy. sounds like this guy should work for the Bush EPA instead of the NYTimes. Like Americans need any more encouragement to put their luxury blinders on.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, we do need plastic bags for trash (like in my car) and I have no good substitute (my wife says the floor gets slippery wit old, moist banana skins lying around). Paper won't do, so I use reusable totes, but occasionally get the plastic ones and reuse them in the car. JB

Faye said...

I understand -- I use the inevitable plastic bags that come with takeout food for our bathroom trash can too! My point was mostly that Tierney was being cavalier and idiotic about the whole situation, and that a reusable bag is the best solution in most situations. Sadly, my kitchen garbage can is too big for grocery bags, so we have to buy them separately -- but we get Seventh Generation ones, which are at least recycled plastic.

Jeff said...

Faye, The problem with your "trees grow from the ground and petroleum doesn't" argument that this writer was trying to say is that the carbon footprint of manufacturing is so much larger than the material itself. The oil and gas used to run the manufacturing plants for paper bags is as much if not more than that of plastic bags, even including that which goes into the plastic bags. That being said, reusable bags are the way to go. Stop and Shop was even giving them away with large enough purchases back in April for Earth Day. Otherwise, I think they're a dollar or so for their bags.

Faye said...

Well, the point that I was trying to make was not that paper is inherently better, just that *his* argument is somewhat irresponsible since he doesn't even mention reusable bags in the article at all.