There is an alternative to using plastic bags
By BILL MEGO email@example.com June 19, 2012 11:06PM
Updated: July 21, 2012 6:08AM
It all adds up — the plastic bag from the grocery, the one from the laundry, and the one that keeps your newspaper dry. Each one seems insignificant, but collectively the number of bags is staggering. Every year, Americans discard about 100 billion bags. If each one weighed the same as the one that protects your newspaper, the total weight would be about 500 million pounds, but most bags weigh a lot more.
Less than two percent of the bags are recycled. A few end up in landfills, but far too many end up in our forests, waterways, and oceans, where they clog drains and kill mammals, birds, and fish, mainly by choking them or blocking their digestive systems. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there is a whirlpool the size of Texas with billions of pounds of plastic bits floating just below the surface. I guarantee you that some of that plastic was once in your hands. There are also four smaller gyres in other oceans.
Tired of all the environmental horror stories? I know I am. The only question is: when are we going to get tired enough to actually do something about them.
You’ve probably heard that there is a bill awaiting Governor Quinn’s signature that would require plastic bag and film makers to set up recycling centers within 10 miles of 80 percent of Illinois residents by 2015. It would also require them to register with the Illinois EPA and increase the rate of recycling by 10 percent.
The problem, according to some, is that to protect those bag makers it preempts home rule municipalities from enacting their own bans or other legislation. I don’t happen to think that cities should tell you what kinds of bags you can use, but if they can’t enact the laws their citizens vote for, what exactly does home rule mean?
I guess I should be happy that Illinois is the first state to systematically address this problem, but I just can’t see what this law is actually going to accomplish. Anyway, the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough laws. A law is really just a suggestion. If the people don’t think it’s a good suggestion, they’ll find a way not to obey it, as they do with speed limits that they think are too low and any number of other laws.
Most bags are polyethylene (04), and can be recycled. However, curbside programs don’t accept them because they get tangled up with other plastic. The city’s recycling drop-off center doesn’t accept them because... well, it just doesn’t. However, a few groceries do take their own bags back, which I think is an excellent idea.
In fact, it’s so good that there should be a rule that if you sell plastic garbage, you should have to take it back for recycling or, if that’s not practical as is the case for newspapers, contribute to a fund that helps other stores run their programs.
If all plastic bags were polyethylene and all stores that gave them out were required to take them back, I think most people would recycle the bags. People are just lazy. When we started the curbside recycling program, cynics believed nobody would participate. Now, in many neighborhoods, there is much more recycling waste than garbage.
We use canvass grocery bags, including nifty insulated ones for frozen food, and I would never go back. They’re great. In fact, that’s the way we shopped for years, carrying our canvass shopping bags over to Gately’s People Store on Michigan Avenue and Theresa’s grocery on Wentworth Avenue, where you could buy bulk food from bins and barrels. I guess we had the solution to plastic bags way back then, but it somehow just slipped our minds.