Saturday, January 31, 2009

Paper Or Plastic?

Ever since plastic bags became available as the means to tote our groceries home, I've heard that we need to switch back to paper bags. Indeed, in 2007 San Francisco banned the use of plastic bags by chain stores for the carrying home of retail purchases (albeit with this controversy, as explained in a January 7, 2009 article debunking that particular bit of feel-good legislation in the San Francisco Weekly), and Whole Foods recently converted to using paper bags or reusable bags only.

But do such changes really save the environment?
Marc Fisher of the Washington Post recently made the following excellent points about the paper-or-plastic wars:

...Way too much brainpower has gone into efforts by scientists, advocates and policy wonks to figure out whether plastic or paper bags are more damaging to the air, water, soil, and our souls. Binary Man [as Marc Fisher sometimes refers to himself] has learned the ins and outs of factors such as eutrophication, which is the degree to which paper or plastic bags disturb the nutritional balance of the earth's soil as they each sit in landfills. (Paper loses that part of the battle; the process used to make the bags emits considerably more carbon than making a plastic bag.)

The plastics industry churns out studies seeking to show that plastic bags are better for the environment even if they are made from fossil fuels, because the bags are frequently reused. And it is true that neither paper nor plastic bags decompose to any useful degree in the landfills where most of our trash ends up....
By the end of the column, Mr. Fisher advocates that we bring our own bags to the store, even if doing so encroaches upon our desire for convenience.

Decades ago, probably during the Carter Administration, we here in the D.C. area heard that an impending shortage of grocery bags was looming. My grandmother, seamstress extraodinaire, cranked up her sewing machine and made the family a supply of denim bags to use at the grocery store. The shortage of grocery bags in our region didn't come to fruition. Those denim bags are in storage upstairs here, and I should dig them out, in case the Virginia Assembly decides to impose a proposed fee on both paper and plastic bags used in grocery stores and big-chain retailers; that kind of legislation has been under consideration this session.

I also note that, in the current flurry of legislation regarding paper-or-plastic, few environmentalists want to ban plastic garbage bags. That lack of initiative is understandable, of course, because of the unpleasant result in suburban neighborhoods:

Furthermore, most composting, particularly when the compost pile isn't regularly and properly tended, also leads to the following unintended, disgusting, and potentially dangerous consequence:

History has proven to us the toll on human life when rat population is left unchecked (click on image to enlarge):

I can't imagine that environmentalists will advocate a ban on plastic garbage bags. But one never knows! After all, at least one university professor has advocated using the Ebola Virus as a method of culling humanity and saving Planet Earth.

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posted by Always On Watch @ 1/31/2009 07:31:00 AM