The next time the clerk at the local grocery store asks for a paper or plastic preference, an appropriate answer could be “neither.” The environmentally friendly alternative to paper and plastic bags is a reusable grocery bag.
A reusable grocery bag doesn’t harm the environment in production and doesn’t need to be discarded after each use, making it a sensible choice among consumers today. Often times plastic grocery bags will end up as litter. Plastic grocery bags are the fifth most common item of debris found on beaches in the United States according to the Ocean Conservancy. Even when properly disposed of, the bags will end up in a landfill, taking up to 1,000 years to dispose of. The South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in an effort to demonstrate the value of reusable bags to consumers and the environment have listed these facts about plastic grocery bags:
*The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both non-renewable resources that increase our dependency on foreign suppliers. Additionally, prospecting and drilling for these resources contributes to the destruction of fragile habitats and ecosystems around the world.
*Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags of mistaken food.
*The toxic chemical ingredients needed to make plastic produces pollution during the manufacturing process.
*In a landfill, or in the environment, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade. As litter, they eventually break apart into tiny bits, contaminating our soil and water.
Several grocery stores have joined the movement to cut plastic waste including Whole Foods Market, who does not offer the option of plastic bags to customers. Wal-Mart is also in support of reusable bags, offering them to customers for a cost of only .50 cents at the time of check out. According to the Wal-Mart website, the company hopes that their reusable bags will cut plastic waste by one 1/3 by the year 2013.
Many countries have banned plastic bags from their supermarkets completely. Italy, Australia and Ireland are among several nations that now use only reusable bags or paper bags.
Cities here in the United States have also followed suit by placing regulations on plastic bags in local grocery stores. As of January 2011, shoppers in Brownsville, Texas must either bring reusable bags or be charged a fee of $1 for plastic ones.
Buying a reusable grocery bag is a small move that can make a huge difference for the environment. For information on how to purchase reusable bags and to get involved, visit onebagatatime.com.