Bad Sustainability: The Bag
The wrong solution to a very serious problem
Paper or plastic?
A question that used to be quite common to us but is now rarely asked. In 2010 the United States realized we were in the middle of a “crisis.” Everywhere you went there was a trail of evidence pointing to the culprit, the plastic bag? The bags were littering the streets, flowing out of trash cans, harming wild animals, and even floating through the air. It was time we put a stop to this menace of a bag so great minds came together to fix the problem at hand. Some solutions just put a ban on the plastic bags, others a tax to help clean up the bags, but the idea that caught everyone’s eye was the introduction of the reusable bag. But the reusable bag isn’t all it’s made out to be.
The Myth of the Reusable Bag Solution
Although the reusable bag seems like an ideal solution, the bag itself is just another item to push onto consumers. The reusable bag does not do the environment any more good than plastic bags, in fact in some areas they harm it. There are several factors that make this more of a threat to the environment than its savior, including: the hazardous byproducts made during the creation of reusable bags, human error, and the end of the bags life cycle.
During the process of creating these reusable bags several wasteful byproducts are created. Some of these bags are made from a PVC fiber, when processing PVC a byproduct known as dioxins are created. Dioxins are a toxic gas and are known carcinogens. Most of these bags will be dipped in a harsh dye to provide an aesthetically pleasing look. These harsh dyes are huge sources of pollutants and must be disposed of properly to ensure the environments protection. In the past these dyes were just dumped into streams harming the surrounding ecosystem and polluting our water. Another byproduct we must consider is the shipping cost of each bag. I’m not talking about the monetary cost it takes to ship each bag, I’m talking about the additional C02 produced by each shipment. These aren’t the thin lightweight bags we’re used to anymore. Many reusable bags are manufactured overseas and weigh much more than a standard plastic bag as well as take up additional space. That being said we are now burning more gas to ship the same amount of bags to a grocery store.
The Human Error
Everything being said there are some great reusable bags out there that use non-hazardous dyes and environmentally friendly materials. On paper reusable bags are a great solution to the plastic bag crisis. But the world isn’t black and white. The real reason reusable bags don’t work is because of the way humans are using these bags. In order for a reusable bag to be considered more environmentally sound than plastic bags, each bag needs to be used “over 100 times.” That means you have to go to the grocery store 100 times or more before the bag you purchased even begins to make a difference. An average person only goes to the grocery store three times a month, which comes out to 36 times per year. This means you have to hold onto your bag for almost three years in order to be sustainable. How many times have you used your bag?
End of the Life Cycle
The end of a reusable bags life, the landfill. Whether the bag is just simply tossed early, breaks, or becomes unusable the end result is always the same. To me sustainability is about keeping items out of the landfills, all this solution does is delay the continuous build up garbage. A better option that fits our grocery transportation needs is the use of biodegradable bags. Now a days there are many types of plastic that have been produced to be biodegradable, although they may be a little more expensive they are better for our environment. Another great alternative is the use of cardboard boxes. “Over 90% of all products shipped in the US are shipped in corrugated boxes, which totals more than 400 billion square feet of cardboard.” This means every grocery store will have a surplus of it, and cardboard is easily recycled.