Paper, Plastic or... Reusable?

April 16, 2010

“Paper or plastic?” asked the grocery clerk.

Remember when that used to be the question? The simple choice of paper or plastic would be made at the checkout counter of grocery stores. The answer would be a statement of whether you were interested in greenifying. Or so we thought. It turned out that using plastic meant we were saving trees, but it also meant littering our planet with bags that never seemed to really break down and clogged everything from sewers to tree branches and more. They were ugly, hanging from underneath passing cars and strangling fish in our waterways.

I reflected on that this weekend when someone commented on my reusable fabric bag that I used to take a small appliance somewhere. It's a rich sapphire color with strong handles and a firm plastic bottom. I got it at a food industry convention and filled it on the convention floor with samples and information that it took me days to sort through and enjoy. But the bag keeps on giving.

I have other bags. Some are from particular grocery stores and advertise those businesses that I frequent. Some are padded with insulation to keep perishable items from, well, perishing. Some are made of low-carbon burlap and sorta “chic” in a granny-from-a-farm way. Others are very durable and I expect they can carry my purchases for years to come. But here's the thing: I like them all.

I like the endless variety and colors that I'm carrying my things around in. I like the bright colors, as well as the brown burlap. I like the durability and the semi-fragility of the bags. I like that I know exactly what to expect of each. They stack better than paper or plastic, soI like seeing a small stack of them in the back of my car.

The locality where I live started adding a charge for “paper or plastic” a few months back, and since then, I've seen bags like mine on the street. I'm so much happier to see bright colors and store names being carted around than plastic bags blowing in the wind. I'm sure you feel the same way.

So far, we've only cut usage of those bags by a fraction. Some people are willing to pay the surcharge for using plastic bags or they forgot their reusables or they somehow were unable to get a reusable bag for that trip to the store. But we'll forgive and look the other way, “just this once.”

It's nice to Greenify. Maybe give a reusable bag to a neighbor in observance of Earth Day? The planet you save may be your own.


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