Letter To The Editor: Facts About Plastic Grocery Bags

By JOEL M. WILLIAMS
Los Alamos

The 15-gallon plastic trash bin bag liner we use for the trash collector has no carry-out grocery bags in it, but is mainly filled with paper and plastic “packaging”.

My wife uses her own “totes” mostly when shopping, but business supplied carrier bags are sometimes required. I do little shopping.

The rhetoric about a bag ban seems to contain mostly “opinions”. As in most crusades, there is a lot of  “hype”. In this case, mostly from the “green” side. As a chemist, I found some of the information about plastic grocery bags being so bad, unbelievable. So, I thought that I would look up some data on the matter.

Some information about plastic and paper bags:

  • In the U.S., 85 percent of the raw material used to make plastic bags is produced from natural gas; NOT oil! Ireland’s 2002 tax on plastic grocery bags reduced plastic bag use by 90 percent, but sales of packaged plastic bags went up by about 400 percent. Plastic bags make up less than one percent of all litter: “Plastic Bag Myths” http://www.apmbags.com/bagmyths.
  •  Plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy to produce and generate 80 percent less solid waste than paper bags: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97476.
  •  Paper and recycled paper is not only unsustainable in terms of energy, but a major contributor to consumption and pollution of water. Pollution due to pulp and paper production is the third highest in India. The water consumed by paper is around 935 times that of plastic. “Which is more sustainable: Paper or Plastic?”; the author is a sustainability activist and founder of Greenworks:  http://www.sustainabilityoutlook.in/content/which-more-sustainable-paper-or-plastic.
  • Plastic bags don’t figure in entanglement. The main culprits are fishing gear, ropes, lines and strapping bands. Most mammals are too big to get caught up in a plastic bag. Plastic bags were not included in the 1987 Canadian study that said 100,000 marine mammals and seabirds died between 1981-4. The culprits were nets and waste produce. “Series of Blunders Turned the Plastic Bag into Global Villain”  (The Times – London article): http://www.savetheplasticbag.com/ReadContent609.aspx.
  • The consumption of plastic carrier bags in Norway is roughly 20 percent of the annual total of plastic packaging used by households, but carrier bags account for less than one per cent of household waste. The vast majority of the plastic carrier bags, moreover, also serve an important additional function: wrapping up other kinds of waste and other used packaging. Based on the experience of other countries, in Ireland for example, reducing the consumption of plastic carrier bags will lead to certain adjustments in the market and an increase in the use of other types of plastic bags: http://www.europeanplasticfilms.eu/docs/Plastic-carrier-bags-23-10-08_2_.pdf.
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