The Plastic Shopping Bag

“Paper or Plastic?”

“Plastic is fine” has been my answer in the last twenty years. It seemed like a better solution than killing trees to make paper. Yet, I always liked paper bags better. They are sturdier. You can use them for other purposes later. They hold more.

I always wondered what the point was of putting a single carton of eggs into a plastic bag. Or one head of lettuce. Or one bottle of cleaner, lest the cleaner touch a grocery item.

I also always found it ludicrous to go to a card store and buy a birthday card,  a single card, and  then walk out with one of  these small, flimsy plastic bags with the single card in it. What’s the point? Am I embarrassed about carrying out a naked card in my hand? Either I put the flimsy bag into some other carrying container, like a larger shopping bag, or a briefcase or a pocket, or I lay it on the car seat next to me. For all those solutions, I don’t need the flimsy, pointless bag.

Five trillion plastic bags are produced each year in the world. They are used for a few minutes, they slide around in the trunks of cars, and then they are discarded to pollute the earth for hundreds of years, before they decompose. If they end up in oceans, they float around and get eaten by birds, whales and fish. A sufficient quantity of plastic in an animal’s stomach will eventually kill the animal. When the animal is decomposed, the plastic bags are freed and kill again. If a scavenger eats the carcass, the bag may eventually kill the scavenger.

Five trillion bags, that’s over 700 bags per person for every person in the world every year. That’s two bags a day for each man, woman and child in the world. Every day.

Bags are made out of crude oil. 0.2 percent of the world’s oil is used to make bags – about 60 million barrels a year.

There is no solution to this other than every one of us consuming less or no bags. We need to refuse to allow merchants to put single items, books, cards, toothpaste, candy bars, magazines, newspapers into single bags. We need to bring reusable bags to the supermarket. They are sturdier anyway. We need to keep a stock of them in the trunk of our cars.

“Paper or plastic?”


2 thoughts on “The Plastic Shopping Bag

  1. Eric Petrie

    Congratulations, Norbs, you made me think twice and use only a single plastic bag at checkout today, for all of my groceries. Thanks for raising my consciousness.

    But, the story you tell is miserable. 5 trillion bags a year means that the planet is doomed. What difference did I make today? Nothing.

    1. What difference did Rosa Parks make?
      What difference did the single young man with a briefcase in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square make?
      A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Leave a Reply