Americans are shifting away from plastic bags that are difficult to recycle. Countries worldwide are banning the flimsy bags that some say could take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
In January, Whole Foods Market announced they will be plastic-bag-free by Earth Day 2008. In their press release, a company official estimated this move will keep 100 million new plastic grocery bags out of the environment-and that’s just bags from this grocer.
In an article by Kay Bushnell posted to Sierra Club’s website, Worldwatch says Americans throw away 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags each year.
Vincent Cobb, founder of Reusablebags.com, has photographic proof on his website that a lot of plastic bags wind up as litter. His photo gallery is a strong reminder of not only the eyesore, but also their prevalence as debris.
Cobb says our environment wins whether we choose a reusable bag that’s made of synthetic or organic material.
“Synthetic bags fold up smaller. You can keep them on your person, so they’re available at all times,” said Cobb. “I’m a guy, I’m not going to carry a tote, but I always take my synthetic bag with me when I run errands because of its size.”
Either way, he says there is a net positive effect for the environment after an individual uses a reusable bag 20 to 30 times.
Brian Valdez, a child development major, says he started using the reusable bags that he bought at Staples about a month ago.
“They’re big, so I can to fit more things in them. It’s been much better that way, because I don’t have as many plastic bags any more,” said Valdez. “My grocery store, Ralphs, discounts five cents from the bill but I don’t do it for that. I do it just to improve the environment.”
Valdez recited a statistic he had read on one of his reusable bags, “It says that each Californian uses about 552 bags per year.”
CSUN’s total population, including students, faculty and staff is about 37,000. If everyone switched to reusable bags, that’s 20,424,000 fewer bags littering the environment or not in landfills.
Valdez and fellow environmentally conscious student Pamela Guaicohea, a biology major, were recently building an igloo out of plastic milk containers to promote an upcoming Earth Day event.
On April 22, CSUN Associated Students University Recycling will hold a recycling awareness event on the Matador Bookstore Lawn from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Guaicohea says she is new at shopping with reusable bags and she’s still struggling to remember to bring them with her to the store. But even when she forgets, she is more assertive at telling the bagger to put more groceries in fewer bags.
Anthropology major Aixa Montanez has mastered the art of remembering to bring along her reusable bags and she’s been doing so for the past one and a half years.
“It’s the best thing to do for the environment and the cost of reusable bags is very affordable,” said Montanez. “I have two green canvas bags from Whole Foods and I use them everywhere I go, not just at the grocery store, but anywhere I shop that I would need a bag.”
Recently at Trader Joe’s in Thousand Oaks, the grocery retailer had shopping bags on display in one of their massive wooden produce bins in front of the store that would typically feature a choice fruit or vegetable.
Trader Joe’s store manager Mike Stiverson says the reason for the prominent display is that “people are buying more of them and we want to make them easily available and increase awareness that we sell them.”
And, there’s an incentive to switch. “If you bring in your own bags, you can enter into a weekly raffle to win a gift card and another reusable shopping bag. This promotes people bringing in reusable bags,” said Stiverson.
While plastic bags are still an option at Trader Joe’s, earlier this month, Ikea announced that it will ban all plastic bags by Oct. 1.
According to EnvironmentalLeader.com, Ikea began offering options to its customers last year. Consumers could pay five cents for each plastic bag they used to carry their goods away from the store, they could purchase a large reusable bag for 59 cents, or they could use a reusable bag. The “Bag the Plastic Bag” program worked. Company officials say that 92 percent of their customers quit buying plastic bags.
Although not as punitive as the Republic of Ireland’s 2002 tax on plastic shopping bags, Ikea’s program appears to be just as effective in reducing litter.
The “plastax,” as it’s called in Ireland, is a 15 cents per-bag-tax that has cut the use of plastic bags by more than 90 percent. The BBC News website reported that Ireland’s Environment Minister Martin Cullen said the tax was not only changing consumer behavior but also raising national consciousness about what individuals must do to solve the problems of litter and waste management.
While Americans are a little behind the Europeans when it comes to addressing the plastic bag problem, they’re catching up quickly said Jonathan Marcoschamer, co-founder of Ecoist, a distributor of reusable bags that come in a variety of designs and colors for the fashion-conscious, environmentally aware consumer.
“In the past year there has been an increase in demand for green products, but it has to be appealing and well designed,” said Marcoschamer. “It has to be the right price and people have to like it. Eco-friendly is the icing on the cake. It has to be equal or better than the non-eco-friendly product for people to buy it.”
Even though some of today’s consumers are motivated more by looking good while doing something good, the really dedicated individuals are those who started using recyclable bags simply because it was the right thing to do.
Wendy Birky, CSUN anthropology lecturer, has used the same canvas bag to carry her groceries for 20 years.
“I have an eclectic group of bags. They don’t match and that’s just fine,” said Birky. “If I forget my canvas bags and I have to use the store’s plastic bags, I really drive the bagger crazy. They try to double-bag the plastic and I won’t let them and I make them put more than three things in the bag.”
Birky says she’ll be sure to reuse that plastic bag, too.
“I started reusing bags for environmental reasons 20 years ago,” said Birky. “The way I look at it that’s a lot of stuff that’s not in the dump.”