I have made a shift in my shopping habits over the last couple years. Now, my favorite grocery store is a local Consumers Co-op, PCC Natural Market. There are eight stores in the Seattle area and they are not your co-op of the 70's! The atmosphere is welcoming and beautiful. The employees are happy and gracious. I often say they are my watchdog when it comes to organic, ethical eating.
In August 2007 all of their stores stopped offering plastic bags to customers:
Q. Why discontinue the plastic bags? ...Our current bags break down under the right conditions but they are not compostable and we learned recently that they cannot be recycled in our trade area. Additionally, they're a petroleum-based product and petroleum is not renewable. We're promoting options based on renewable resources.
Q. Aren't paper bags just as bad for the environment?The manufacture and transport of both paper and plastic bags have environmental impacts. The production of paper bags may require more energy than plastic but fewer toxins are produced in the manufacture of paper. Paper also comes from a renewable source, is easily recycled, and is readily biodegradable (unlike plastic) and compostable. We believe paper is a more sustainable choice than plastic.
Q. Is paper the best choice then? Reusing bags is the best choice of all. We encourage customers to bring their own bags and we offer a variety of tote bags at cost.
Plastic bag consumption at check-out counters has been receiving attention world wide. Each year, 12 million barrels of oil are needed to produce the 100 billion plastic bags Americans consume each year, according to the EPA. And while plastic bags can sometimes be recycled, only about five percent are.
This excessive waste led Ireland in 2002 to adopt a Plas-Tax of 15 pence per bag. By the following year, plastic bag use in Ireland had been reduced 90% and the proceeds of the tax were being used to subsidize reusable shopping bags for the poor.
San Francisco and Oakland recently made headlines for imposing plastic bag bans on high-grossing retailers. While taxes, bans, and recycling programs have merit, the bag tax is unique in placing the responsibility of consumption and respect for the environment on the average citizen, on you, on me.
If only citizens/consumers, that would be us, would buy into the fact that they can do a huge thing for our environment in such an easy, simple way. Reduce the consumption, use and reuse cloth or woven bags. The question of plastic or paper isn't the only choice you have to make at the check out stand. Or would you rather pay a tax on that bag?