Go Beyond

Written by Teran McKinney.
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Paper or Plastic?

Yesterday I took my truck to Natural Grocers on the way back from San Marcos. Every other time I'd been there, I'd walked from my apartment with a backpack.

This store is like Aldi's, providing neither paper nor plastic, but giving boxes away freely to carry your goods in. I do appreciate the boxes. I certainly like the option.

Generally, one use anything is considered bad for the environment. Plastic and paper bags usually fall under that category. Numerous cities have bag taxes now, sometimes even 25 cents per bag. Now, it does bother me when I check out and immediately the cashier bags my one, easy to carry item. Or even more so, multiple items that easily fit into one bag, into multiple bags. It's just wasteful and silly.

But, these bags serve a valuable purpose. They help securely transport my newly purchased goods back home.

Natural Grocer's box selection was not very good this day. I had to fit my groceries into three, fairly small boxes. I carried them out to my truck and one was very awkward to hold. Not that plastic bags are always strong and ergonomic, but more often than not they are the right tool for the job. This small box was not. What's nice is that the box was "free", already used by the store and now I could take it home with me. However in this case, it was cumbersome and risky. I could easily drop this "free" box and lose a few dollars worth of produce, have broken glass, etc. I don't think that buying things twice is good for the environment.

If there are no ideal boxes available, Natural Grocer's does sell reusable bags for probably a dollar. Now, to safely bring home my groceries I have to pay a dollar for such a privilege -- when I could be using a disposable bag that would cost far, far less than a penny. Moreover, these reusable bags tend to accumulate and I've seen people have to throw them out because they end up with so many. Yes, largely from bad planning, but ultimately probably worse at times for the environment than the extremely efficient (from a material perspective) plastic bags.

Even in some cases, the reusable bags are not all that strong and may break after 20-30 uses. Say the bag is equivalent to 3 bags on average. Call it 75 plastic bags that it replaced. I'm guessing that 75 plastic one-use bags have less or the same amount of plastic as that one reusable bag. That more than likely is just going to be thrown out anyway.

And when all is said and done, you now have goods to throw out. What I do is I save my plastic bags and use them as trash bags. A great number of people buy a reusable bag, just to carry home "proper" trash bags. Now there absolutely are cases for large trash bags, but for my purposes the bag I bought the items in is usually more than sufficient. So really, it gets used twice.

So much attention is put on these tiny plastic bags (which admittedly, I hate to see littered about), and far less is put on what you buy. The same people pushing for the bag tax are often the ones buying disposable razors every week, rather than a safety razor and blades. Or maybe these are the people buying a new car every five years, rather than sticking to used cars and keeping them on the road.

As far as paper goes, clearly there is much more material in a paper bag than a plastic bag. I will take either depending on the circumstance. The paper makes for a self-standing trash can. It's also a bit more classy and you can burn it in your fire place to help heat your home.

I think being environmentally concious is a very good thing. Yet, the double standards are very evident and a lot of the environmentalist's mindset will often just hurt the environment more than help it.




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