Friday, May 25, 2007

Paper vs. Plastic vs. Bring Your Own

By Brian Rohter

Should bags be banned?
A recent ban on plastic bags in San Francisco has generated conversations here in our community about the relative environmental impact of paper vs. plastic. San Francisco is the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags, an action that has become popular around the world in places as diverse as South Africa, Taiwan and France. Other countries have imposed a tax on the use of plastic bags, and have seen their use drop by as much as 95 percent.

Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams recently jumped into the fray, convening a group of grocers and others to discuss what Portland should do about the bag issue. Commissioner Adams and his staff put a series of options on the table including banning the bags, taxing the bags or trying to improve the current program of encouraging voluntary reduction. The bags that are being evaluated are the ones that you get at the check stand to carry your groceries away from the store. This new proposed legislation would have no impact on the bags used in the produce or bulk departments for instance.

We generally only use paper bags and don’t even have any of the traditional plastic bags with handles in our stores. Less than one percent of our customers ask for plastic instead of paper (mostly people who are walking a fairly long distance home with their groceries, which seems like a decent environmental trade off) and for those folks we stock really heavy, sturdy plastic bags that will make their lives a little easier. Like many other environmental issues that we face as a society, this topic is not simple and there doesn’t appear to be an obvious perfect solution. Here’s some info on the paper versus plastic vs. bring your own.

Why choose paper?

  • Non-biodegradable plastic bags are made from polyethylene, a non-renewable petroleum product. Paper bags are made from a renewable resource.
  • Plastic bags are difficult to recycle and the large majority of them end up in landfills. A recent study by Worldwatch Institute claims that less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled in the United States.
  • Plastic bags that don’t end up in a landfills end up as litter, where they contaminate the environment and endanger wildlife.
  • The process of recycling plastic bags is dangerous as the bags get tangled in the sorting machines and have to be cut out. Paper bags are much easier to recycle.
  • Paper bags hold up to four times as much as plastic bags.

Why choose plastic?

  • The production of paper is highly polluting to our land, air and water, and uses a great deal of energy (ie., fossil fuels). Plastic bags use much less energy than paper bags to produce and transport.

Why not choose reusable?
No matter which side of the debate you come down on, we all can agree that the lowest environmental impact is made by reducing use altogether. A reusable shopping bag made of cloth, hemp or some other fiber can act as a reliable tote for hundreds of shopping excursions.We have inexpensive, reusable bags available for sale in all of our stores, located at many of our checkout lines. They’re only $1.50 each and we’re told they’ll last up to a couple of years. If you can’t find our reusable bags just ask!

Please help us figure out what the next steps should be.
We’d like to be able to report back to Commissioner Adams about what our shoppers think would be the best resolution to this question. Should we ban bags? Should we tax them? Would you be willing to pay 10 to 15 cents per bag every time you needed one or forgot to bring yours from home? Is there some other idea we could come up with to encourage more voluntary participation? We already give a nickel off to all of our customers if they bring back a New Seasons Market bag for reuse or bring back one of our competitors bags or simply put their groceries in a back pack. Please share your thoughts with us we’ll pass them on. Thanks.


kate said...

When I go shopping, I try to remember to bring my cloth bags, but if I forget, I ask for paper. There is no need for plastic bags. I like the idea of banning them. I am also an online grocery shopper and wish that there was a way to receive my groceries in reusable containers rather than paper.

victoria said...

I say we follow Europe where the majority of countries charge for bags. The people there are used to usually bringing their own reusable bags. Most places have paper bags or a heavier plastic bag (so you can bring it back and use it about 10 times) for 15 cents. Even though I try my best sometimes I forget my canvas bags but being charged a few times would actually probably help me remember. If plastic bags remain what about the ones that are made from corn?

Carol said...

When shopping in Germany ten years ago, I found that I was charged a small amount (25 cents?) for a grocery bag when I didn’t bring my own. This seems very reasonable to me. And I definitely prefer paper which breaks down after the bag is no longer usable.

seattle said...

i recently moved to seattle and miss new seasons tremendously. in seattle, the equivalent is the PCC Market, a co-op. they offer biodegradable plastic bags, which are nice but not quite as sturdy for the walk home with heavy groceries. we try to bring our own whenever possible but sometimes we don’t have enough and opt for the biodegradable plastic.

Deanna Moore said...

I always wear a backpack when grocery shopping, and can pack in two bags of groceries. Inside the backpack, I have a portable canvas bag that takes care of the excess.
Yes, by all means charge for plastic bags, and give a 25-cent credit to those who need none. More credit means more incentive. Less bags means more profits for you.

LisaMary said...

I try to use my cloth and reuse paper bags several times, but have enountered a bit of a problem. I am a convert to NS online ordering and pickup, but so far the only glitch is that I can’t bring my own bags for them to place my order in because they are already bagged when I get there.

Fuel for Fire said...

I was actually thinking of that same situation LisaMary. I thought that perhaps online shoppers could opt to be charged a deposit fee for receiving their groceries in cloth bags and those shoppers could return them to their drivers on their next home delivery. Should any shopper keep those cloth bags, they would not get their deposit back. So it would be more like “renting” cloth bags.

This would be cool, especially given how many extra bags it seems to take to get a home delivery. I think this is because all perishable items are in one bag, frozen items in another bag, produce in another and so on.

Though, eventually I bet those cloth bags would need to be laundered, so….

Daniel Garcia said...

Hello friends,

I really love all the ideas and perspectives everyone has brought to light. Having a dialog is the first step in solving the plastic problem. As a Customer Advocate for New Seasons Market, I felt everyone should know our Online Shopping team cannot take back bags for reuse due to Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Food Sanitation Rules.

New Seasons Market is dedicated to being part of the solution, and we are constantly brainstorming and researching this topic in hopes of finding a solution that works for our business and for our customers. As a community we can figure out solutions that the next generation of Oregonians can be proud of, and this dialog is no doubt part of this process.



ben said...

we use our plastic bags from (other) stores to pick up after our dog when we take him on walks (we’re condo dwellers)… does this count as recycling? Hey - two uses is better than one, right? if we didn’t get them from the store, we’d have to buy plastic bags specifically for picking up after our dog.

diane said...

Like Ben, I reuse any bags I get, whether they be plastic or paper. Plastic bags for garbage and cat litter, paper bags for recycling. If I start to build up a big supply I bring them with me to the store for shopping but as Ben said, if I didn’t get them from the store I would end up buying bags.

Audrey said...

I’m definitely in favor of stores charging for plastic bags. As someone already suggested, a .25 credit on each order for using your own cloth bag is a great incentive to remember to take your bag with you! I’m slowly getting used to taking my cloth bag with me; if I forget it I ask for paper. If I get too many paper bags I shred them for the compost, my worms love them!! Re the dog poop use for plastic bags, I did read that some people in England are using biodegradable (diaper) plastic bags for this chore. Biodegradable plastic bags for lining the garbage can under the sink would be nice, are such things available?

Srikanth said...

I do not like plastic or paper. We bring our own cloth-grocery bag. please promote cloth-grocery bag in NS.

Carol Peterson said...

I think that cloth bags should be available at a reasonable cost and they should be New Season’s green or A designer bags that appeals to peoples sense of aesthetics. One remembers to bring it because it’s cool. Black gets lost in the trunk of the car. Make it hip and now to carry the New Seasons bag to carry into the store. Think about sponsoring a contest, perhaps with the New Season’s motto or encouraging designs that are “green”! And the winner of the design gets free groceries for an alloted amount of time. Make it New Season’s special.

brittany said...

i generally dont take a bag at all and opt to carry my groceries to the store. when i need one, i try to remember my cloth bag, or ill take paper and reuse it to put out the recycling. i also know other stores that will take them (like the co-op on alberta st., for example) and reuse them. this is good because the bags are getting a second use, but also, these stores arent using any more energy tio create bags. the demand is lost. lots of small, local businesses are looking for things like this, anything that saves money helps their business. and helping local business is the thing to do, right? another good option is the corn based, compostable bag. the company i work for just switched over to these, so i know they are readily available, and they are pretty much the same size as the petroleum plastic bags. because these are no doubt more expensive, i would definitly agree with charging for them. or atleast offering a credit for those that dont take them.

now if only we could get places like fred meyer and safeway to automatically give you a bag, even for a bag of gum. that would make a world of a difference…

donnea said...

I think plastic bags should be outlawed! I can’t see any reason for not using biodegradable “plastic” bags, which I order from gardening catalogues and use to keep kitchen compost in. I suspect the packaging industry could develop a biodegradable bamboo bag if they put their minds to it.

Carrie H said...

1. I’d like to see cloth diapers promoted as much as cloth bags.

2.I’m not a freak about the environment, I just try to do my part…cloth diaper my kids…reduce and recycle…and now I’m using the chico bag that is just great, it folds right up in it’s own little bag.

3. Give me an idea about what to use in the garbage bag instead of the plastic bags, I’ve thought of the canvas ones that you put dirty clothes in, and then I can wash them?

4. I need to put some things in plastic, like roasted chicken that I buy. Any ideas instead? Thanks

Suze Riley said...

ate to this conversation, I find I have quite a lot to say!! First off, in France if you don’t bring your own bag to many supermarkets (but not all) they will charge you a HUGE amount for a really big bag that clearly is designed for mult-use. You only do that once and then you find yourself remembering to bring a few bags. Take a look at IKEA’s model - they will sell you a bag or two but make it quite hard. I know there’s been some fear from the supermarkets that people will stop coming if the switch was made, AND its fair to say that in Europe there is a tradition of bringing your own bag to market in a way that simply isn’t here - yet. Secondly, I recently took a course at Earth Advantage to help people make good decisions about remodeling their homes and as part of the exercise had to find out how many planets we’d all need in order to sustain the lifestyle I currently have…. to my horror it added up to 8 planets, and I wasn’t the worst consumer in the class by a long way. Here’s the link so you too can find out: . Anyway, the upshot for me was to immediately start a compost heap, buy only locally available food, (bringing my own bags of course!) and improve the air quality in my house which will in turn reduce the cost of heating it. We can all make small adjustments to our lives to create a massive difference in quality for everyone.

janet said...

I agree and second the comments from Kate, Victoria and Carol, as well as from Brian.
We should go the European-way and tax bags - at minimum what they cost the merchant.
Any tax - even 5 cents - will encourage us to BYO - Bring Your Own.
Yes, plastic bags should discouraged by being discontinued by responsible merchants, one-by-one.

I shop with the fabulous mesh bag, canvass bags, sometimes re-used paperbags.
A canvass bag can show your personality, with art, designs, or a statement.
I also like to use a hand-held basket. I place selections inside, as it fills up I feel I’ve bought enough.
The checkers are very fond of the ease of packing the basket.
I bought my basket at the container store - for around $5.

sister said...

I am all for taxing bags, 5 cents seems reasonable. I believe people need some sort of push into doing what is best for the environment and this seems like a great way. The profits could be put towards environmental causes. YES!

Colin Jury said...

I think New Season’s Market has a lot more important things to worry about. For instance why you would serve mostly meat based soups when everyone knows a vegetarian diet is much healthier for humans.

Sometimes you only have meat based soups. I am a diabetic and strict vege for 38 years, (I lived with John & Yoko for six months back in 1969). When I take the time to bike to your store for an evening soup dinner and you only have meat soups it really makes me wonder about your level of consciousness in management.

You have hundreds of vegetables and every vege meat known to man with a head cook without a brain. Instead of two meat soups and one vege (which usually sells out first), what about two vege soups and one meat based?
And separate the pots used for meat and the ones used for vege’s - if you really want to be considered as cultured.

Get real…plastic or paper…

Anonymous said...

Come on Colin...give peace a chance! I bet you've chased away a lot of friends endlessly repeating that little antecdote. BTW I once ate dinner with the King of France and have eaten veal everyday since! Bring your own bag, and stop blaming the chef because the world won't conform to your ideals.