When Grocers made the shift from paper to plastic bags in the early 1980s, it was a boon to their bottom line. Plastic bags are significantly less expensive than paper bags, are stronger, and since they require less energy and use less
resources for manufacture, actually have a smaller carbon footprint than paper. However, plastic bags have received a bad reputation from environmentalists, who are rightfully concerned about the number of bags that end up as litter in our waters and in our trees, leaving ugly remains in our towns and cities.
In an effort to mitigate waste and environmental impact, as well as reduce costs, plastic bag manufacturers have endeavored to make bags thinner and thinner. Unfortunately, this results in less confidence by the customer that the bags are secure and an increase in register clerks doubling bags. Industry estimates are that 20% of grocery bags are doubled or damaged at the cash register. Thus the real cost and environmental impact of these bags has increased as retailers use more of these thinner plastic bags. In addition, rather than encouraging recycling, some communities have looked to ban, or charge for plastic and paper bags at the grocer.
What’s a better solution, and what should we encourage our environmentally concerned retailers to do? First and foremost, we need to encourage customers to recycle their bags. Recycling is the best way to cut down on waste, as well as eliminate the danger that littered bags pose to wildlife. But even better, with a long term perspective, we can save money, reduce carbon footprint, increase the visibility of a sustainable message, and mitigate danger to wildlife by converting to bags made with new technologies.
Today there are a variety of options of more sustainable replacements for plastic bags. Depending on the local environmental requirements, replacements for bags can be made from materials that are any combination of:
- Anerobically degradable (without air, such as in a landfill)
- Aerobically degradable (from extended exposure)
In many cases, bags made from these new materials can be manufactured at the same or lower cost than plastic. Almost all are less expensive and stronger than paper bags, and many of them are stronger than the plastic bags that grocers are currently using. Since they do not need to be doubled, this results in approximately 20% fewer bags being used, which immediately improves profitability and reduces waste.
Often, we see communities, who have not researched the options, deciding to ban all carry bags. This is not necessary, nor is it the best solution for our community members, who still need to get their groceries home. Before your town embarks on a campaign to ban bags, we recommend that you study the options. You just may find a solution that is better for the environment, more convenient for your community, and does not put an unfair cost burden on your retailers. If you’d like to learn more about where to find these new technologies, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will be pleased to help point you toward some options.