A friend recently asked me which is better, "paper or plastic?" Any environmentalist would tell you neither. . . "bring your own damn bag to the grocery store and stop being lazy!" But if you happen to be without tote, briefcase, backpack, large cargo pockets, or enormous hands, then make sure you ask for a plastic bag. As strange as it sounds, plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes (according to The Film and Bag Federation, a trade group within the Society of the Plastics Industry based in Washington, D.C). Obviously plastic is the better choice, but as this little bird will tell you it's still a pretty bad choice.
No, my feathered friend is not preparing for a rainstorm in a homemade poncho. . . he is sadly trapped in a plastic bag! While in transit to landfills and recycling centers (if we're good), plastic bags often flitter away to entangle fish, suffocate sea turtles, and destroy some poor, already-bloated manatee's digestive system. And how many plastic bags does America use in a day? I can't even begin to calculate. . .
According to GOOD Magazine's July/August edition, Americans use 60,000 (YES, 60,000) plastic bags every FIVE seconds. Can anyone figure out how much that is in a day? While you calculate, five seconds pass, and 60,000 bags make themselves comfortable for the next millennium -- that's how long it will take to disintegrate -- I'll share some suggestions on how you (and I, because I'm trying too here) can cut down on plastic bag usage.
After talking to a few friends and family members, it sounds like most of us really do want to stop using so many plastic bags. The problem, however, comes in the form of forgetfulness. It seems the biggest issue for most of us is remembering to bring that canvas bag to the store. "When I'm running late, trying to get to the Wegman's before it closes, and thinking about other things," says my grandmother, "I usually forget to bring my tote." According to my grandmother, one great way to remember is by stuffing a bundle of plastic bags in the glove compartment. If you're like me, however, and don't have a car, try hanging bags on the front doorknob.
Ladies can also keep a bunch of plastic bags in their purse, while guys -- if feeling particularly naughty -- might consider stuffing a bag in their briefs (grandma, I hope you're not reading this). Yes, you'll look like a tool, but what girl wouldn't forgive you for being an eco-conscious hunk?
Finally, if you have kids and your grocery store offers money for each canvas bag used, let your children collect the pennies and nickels. They'll love that extra change and if they're as money hungry as I was, they'll never let you go to the grocery store without remembering to bring that damn tote.