Paper or plastic? It’s a quandary we have faced in the grocery store for decades. Plastic is non-biodegradable and usually ends up in landfills or worse, in waterways or in the ocean. On the other hand, manufacturing paper is water intensive and produces pollution.
Plastic shopping bags are on their way out. California passed a law prohibiting stores from handing out single-use bags to consumers for free. For the moment it has been delayed and will be the subject of a referendum. But as of July 6th, the entire state of Hawaii has banned the distribution of plastic bags by grocery stores.
Reusable bags are a better solution. In some places around the world, they are handed out for free or for a very nominal price. Here, they are a bit costlier, but are certainly affordable.
Reusable bags require far more energy to produce than disposable bags but make up for it by sufficient reuse. Durable shopping bags can last a long time and are more comfortable to carry around than their disposable counterparts.
A recent study revealed that environmentally friendly shopping bags are associated with significant behavioral changes in the grocery store. In particular, shoppers who bring their own bags are more likely to purchase healthy food – especially organic food. This is perhaps no surprise. More interestingly, these shoppers are also more likely to purchase junk food – cookies, potato chips and the like. Why? Perhaps because they feel virtuous and feel they deserve a reward.
The tricky part of reusable bags is remembering to bring them to the store when we shop. We should do it; it is a good idea.
Photo, posted January 1, 2010, courtesy of Mr. TinDC via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.