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May 08, 2007

Shopping Bags are a Drag

Did you know that the production of "paper bags generates 70 percent more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags." So says an article on MSNBC called Paper or Plastic -- What's the Greener Choice? A site called offers a few more choice statistics.

Now, I have two canvas grocery bags, but I'm not the best at using them. In the past, I've rationalized that paper bags are biodegradable and thus, not that bad. When I do get plastic bags, I reuse them as garbage bags to assuage my conscience. Why didn't I ever think about the trees cut down to make paper bags and the pollution caused by the process? I'm not sure...willful ignorance, perhaps?
Given the amount of unnecessary packaging wrapped around our foodstuffs, maybe the bags seemed like a smaller issue?

In any case, when I get home tonight I'm going to put both of my canvas shopping bags in my trunk so that I'll always have them around. The article was a reminder that as ethical as one tries to be, there's always room for improvement.

Sorry for getting all heavy on you there!


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In Ireland if you want a bag at the grocery store, you have to pay for it. Even if you are just taking bags to put your produce in, they cost extra. The result is that just about everyone brings their own.

Co-op register jockey

Seconded. Supermarkets in the Czech Republic have a bag surcharge as well.

As for me, regardless of the fact that the paper industry is a massive polluter, that doesn't change the fact that the bags themselves are, well, paper, and not plastic. Recyclability of plastic bags isn't an issue around here, because they can't be.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the degradable bags we're supposed to be getting in a couple of months. There are some qualms (may not degrade in the anaerobic environment of a landfill), but nothing that isn't already true of plastic bags. To steps in the right direction, anyway.


"bags in my trunk"

If you're driving much, I wouldn't lose sleep over your choice of grocery bags.

"Recyclability of plastic bags isn't an issue around here, because they can't be."

Price Chopper has a barrel in the store entrance to collect plastic bags.

Lisa Crean

Hannaford's has some great reusable bags. They're much sturdier and larger than canvas bags, with a flat bottom that somehow helps the bag magically refold itself when empty. They come in a choice of nice colors, and cost only $1.50--and you get a 5 cent per bag credit each time you use them. I leave mine on the back seat, so I don't forget to bring them in.

I bought them the day after I saw An Inconvenient Truth. It's a small step--I can still see those damn melting Antarctic ice sheets in my head...thanks, Al! But my humble manual transmission compact car gets nearly 40 mpg., and I'll buy a hybrid next time if I can afford it.

Meanwhile, foodwise, buying local is the most eco-conscious thing we can all do. I'm looking forward to a summer of local organic produce--good for the enviroment, fun in the kitchen, and yummy yummy yummy.


Bridget and co-op jockey -- I think what they're doing in Ireland and the Czech Republic sounds great. I wish they would do that here.

Damon -- Welcome. I totally agree about the driving. I went 28.9 years without owning a car, and walked or biked everywhere. However, my job at Seven Days requires owning a vehicle. I visit the grocery store (with said bags in my trunk) when I am already in the vicinity for other reasons.

Thanks for the head's up on Price Chopper's bag collection site. That's great.

Lisa -- I appreciate the tip on the Hannaford's bags!

P.S. Burlington Farmer's Market (and a few others) are up and running this week. Viva la local food!


Suzanne, I love your blog!

SEABA (the South End Arts + Business Association) has just announced this year's annual meeting, "It's In the Bag." We have been holding a "Flamingo Fling" for the past four years, where we give local artists and crafty people pink plastic flamingoes to decorate or reconstruct and then we auction the results. When the flamingo factory closed last year, we decided to go back to the drawing board to come up with a new idea.

We ended up with reusable grocery bags. So we will be distributing bags for people to decorate (contact me or SEABA at 802-859-9222/ if you'd like to participate) in a couple of weeks. The auction of the bags will be part of our annual meeting on June 14 from 6-9 at the new Lake Champlain Chocolates Fulfillment center at 444 Pine St., and will feature wine and chocolate pairings.

Let's end the paper/plastic debate and all start using cloth bags.

BTW, Italy also has the bag surcharge.


Brooke -- I'm in. Making an artsy, reusable grocery bag sounds like fun!


We have three bright green reusable bags from Hannafords. They are awesome. So strong and big capacity for the purchases for our family of 5. Sometimes the checkers at Hannafords ask, "Where did you get these?"

I also have a great bag from Homeport that folds up into a tiny pouch. It is about the size of grocey plastic bag. I carry that in my backpack all the time for impromptu purchases.


I wish City Market and Healthy Living would stop using such GREAT plastic bags. If they want to encourage people to use reusable bags, they should give out the crappy ones that Shaw's uses. Instead, they use the best dang plastic bags on earth. Harrrumph!


Hi Sara, it's nice to see you here (particularly because you helped to make this blog possible by allowing me to design my "Food Studies" degree at UVM)! The fold-up bag from Homeport sounds great -- I may just have to buy one myself.

Aed -- I'd never thought of it that way! One thing is that the City Market bags are strong enough to be re-usable, while I recall that the thinner bags always had holes in them by the time I got home, and thus were useless as garbage bags or for toting home my CSA veggies.

Since I wrote the original post, I purchased an additional re-usable bag from City Market. Although they used to sell canvas bags, the newer ones are made from recycled bottles. And they're pretty slick looking (black with the City Market logo). One thing I like about the City Market version is that even though it's not designed for it, you can put your arms through the straps and wear it on your back -- it's better for biking than some of the other re-usable bags I've seen. Backpacks are good for that, too, but the only backpack I own is a really nice one with a fabric interior that's meant for my laptop and camera, and an accidental food spill in there would be problematic.

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