Monday, January 26, 2009

Plastic bags - or "Why I may need an asbestos suit to post this"

I went food shopping yesterday and bought a lot of groceries as I also made-to-freeze 4 lasagnes, 3 quiches, 2 custard tarts and some jam tarts, as well as hosting a Hottest 100 Aussie Day bbq today. I purposefully took no reusable shopping bags with me because I wanted to stock up on plastic bags. I got some filthy looks from the checkout chic because of this so I feel like posting about my position on bags.

The average plastic bag is repurposed when you get home with it - you use it to line little bins around the house, to take lunch to work in, to put wet bathers in after the beach or pool, to pick up dog poo, and so on. What is going to happen to these parts of our life when bags are phased out?
  • Take away the small bins and just use one large on in the kitchen, still lined with a plastic bag. Increase use of plastic bags as we won't reduce our volume of rubbish, but just concentrate it in one place.
  • Get a bag of some description to take lunch to work in. Decrease frugality as these will wear out, and will need maintenance and cleaning, and may get lost / left behind.
  • Wet items need coralling still, so more consumption to replace this use.
  • Dog poo collection drops as people (who from my observation are RUDELY incapable of collecting their dog's turds anyway) reduce the amount of poo that is collected unless they are near a bin (which have been removed because they are terrorist threats) and aren't carrying a pooper scooper.
And so on. Plastic is a part of our life - and as a peak oil'ist, and a chemistry graduate, I know that our love affair with it will have to stop soon and it will be horrible and painful. But instead of advocating chucking out the Tupperware and stepping away from the ziplock bags, I'd love some of the trendy greenies out there to get a grip on what actually impacts on greenhouse gasses - and in Australia, for the most part, if you changed the food that you ate, you'd have a BIGGER impact on your footprint by sharehousing, giving up the car (or at least the 2nd one), walking or riding more, and eating locally and in season.

Giving up the plastic bag is simple and pathetic and ineffective and such a lovely case of greenwashing. If the reasons people were saying to ban plastic bags actually had anything to do with the impact that they have on marine life, then I'd be all ears and would bang that drum! But most people are completely unaware of the impact that these have, because the 6 pack plastic beer can holders have been phased out here in Australia and few people think it's a problem anymore.

And for that matter - what do you think the reusable bags are made out of? They are made out of plastics. If they're made from recycled plastic, then that's a lot of energy and water involved in recycling plastic into something else. The bags also have to be shipped from point A (you) to point B (depot) to point C (consolidation) to point D (export) to point E (recycling) to point F (packing) and back to you... which is a bigger impact on greenhouse gasses than just using more bags. And then consider that a plastic bag and a reusable bag hold around about half and twice the amount respectively, but the reusable bag weighs more than twice the others and is BIGGER, so transport costs are higher anyway!

Precisely how green are these things then? Not very, I think.

On the other hand, by removing plastic bags from every shop, you are perhaps forcing more people to think about their impact on the environment. In theory, anyway, as your average pleb is completely ignorant to peak oil, or the impact we are having on biodiversity or resilience in our environment. Removing bags isn't going to reduce consumption, but will increase the amount of $$ we are spending on appearing to be conscious of our impact.
  • And as as aside, at The House of Bun, we have not had bags for 4 or so years, and sell reusable bags (the green ones rock as they are huge and have a reinforced bottom and are square based, whereas the red ones are like a beach bag / tote in construction) bags but still have people bitch about not having bags. We have boxes that are availbale to any customer to pack their purchases in, and still people bitch because they don't have a bag to put things in. But funnily enough, we do get a lot of people who are moving house and want to come to us to get free boxes to move in. I can remember doing that when I first moved house 10 years ago, and now no other store has a box coralle at the front of the store for boxes. Will we see a return to this?


pollyhyper said...

Here in good ol' Delaware, USA, people give me dirty looks when I DO bring my own bags! Stupid rednecks.

Morag said...

holy crap girlie! How much cooking can one do AND host a BBQ?!
That's WILD. Pls share your mad cooking skillz. Recipes?!
Xx L

Kate said...

The local supermarket in the small town I grew up in used to have the box-coralle. It was extremely useful!

Also, bear in mind that re-useable bags are only green if you REUSE them! Myself I have about ten, and am constantly buying more because I forget them and they are easier to carry. Not very green!

I don't recycle paper because it creates a toxic sludge and takes a lot of energy to do - as well as transportation. Yet I still buy recycled toilet paper, I realised. Habit, maybe?

Did you know that it takes more energy to wash a ceramic cup in a dishwasher than it does to produce and ship a single paper or even styrafoam cup? These things are more complex than 'bore water good, mains water bad'

Emma Someone said...

PH - people think you're strange if you don't comply, regardless of where you are!

M - recipes will follow :). BBQ was self-catered by people mostly, and was lovely.

Kate - I remember getting boxes and making cars out of them after getting groceries! And in Australia, what we are short on is water, so it's a hard line to walk with recycled paper and such things. We aren't short on landfill space, so the "need" to save room also isn't there.

For eg regarding recycling: using an industrial-scale nappy service is a better way of having nappied babies than having cloth nappies, or single-use. This is because cloth nappies need a lot of washing (and drying in winter), and SU nappies are heinously disgusting and will never break down. But commercial washers have strict water guidelines on them...