Ban The Bag
June 27, 2007 6:39 AM   Subscribe

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation's video Synthetic Sea is pretty shocking. "All we can do is stop polluting and hope the system will clean itself up in hundreds of years." So, what will be the fate of the plastic bag until the inevitable ban comes? Should they be Taxed? Should they be Banned ? Should stores charge extra for them? We don't really have a lot of time to argue about it.
posted by chuckdarwin (36 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
As an aside: Controversial Bags aside, We Are What We Do publish the worthwhile books Change The World For A Fiver and Change The World 9 to 5.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:42 AM on June 27, 2007


how do you really feel about plastic bags?
posted by caddis at 6:46 AM on June 27, 2007


Yes, please make them go away.

I still can't believe the weird looks I get from some cashiers when I say, "No bag, thanks." As if I am undermining some important function of their job with my do-gooderness.
posted by hermitosis at 6:53 AM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


PEAK BAG.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:53 AM on June 27, 2007


Lately at Longo's, my local supermarket, they have started minimizing bag use in a couple ways. Mainly the bagger will now ask "is it okay to put these together?" while holding up say bread and eggs, which often used to get their own bag.

I think they'll figure out a way to clean up a lot of this plastic in about 40 years, using great clouds of bio-degradable nanites which break down or collect the plastics and then themselves collect into larger agglomerations or break down.
posted by autodidact at 6:57 AM on June 27, 2007


I think they'll figure out a way to clean up a lot of this plastic in about 40 years

Who is this they you speak of? And where is they now? Will they be here soon?
posted by humannaire at 6:59 AM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I seem to recall on acknowledging and managing the challenge of plastic bags.

In any case, Reusablebags is an information gold mine on the subject of the scourge of plastic bags - plus the site has a live counter at the top of the page of "plastic bags consumed this year."

Incidentally, San Francisco is a US city that has a plastic bag reduction ordinance [PDF]. (For the record, SF is going for complete ban.) This page has some interesting facts about plastic bags
posted by humannaire at 7:12 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I still can't believe the weird looks I get from some cashiers when I say, "No bag, thanks."

Hah! I was at the grocery store the other day when I heard a couple of cashiers muttering about a pair of bag-eschewing customers who had just left.

"They didn't want them bagged?"

"No. They said 'No bags.'"

"They had a full cart!"

"I know, but that's what they said."

"Seriously. No bags."

"No bags."
posted by katillathehun at 7:21 AM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I got some reusable bags and let me tell you, they are a whole. new. paradigm.

I originally got them....I don't even know why. Probably liberal guilt over the environment. But they are so awesome I would use them even if they killed baby penguin. First of all, they hold easily 3 times as much as a plastic bag, which means fewer trips and faster bagging/unbagging. They also make carrying that much easy, since the handles don't cut into your palms. And they stand up, so you don't have your groceries rolling all over the place plus the handle is easy to find when you get home. And don't forget that they never, ever burst! And no unsightly mass of plastic bags in the kitchen afterwards.

The only downside is that we sometimes forget them at home. But we've mostly trained ourselves so that's a rare event now.
posted by DU at 7:26 AM on June 27, 2007


Isn't Peak Oil going to take care of the cheap-plastic-crap-everywhere problem? That's one reason I was looking forward to it.
posted by jfuller at 7:30 AM on June 27, 2007


Isn't Peak Oil going to take care of the cheap-plastic-crap-everywhere problem? That's one reason I was looking forward to it.

I hope this is a snark. Peak Oil is pretty fucking scary.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:34 AM on June 27, 2007


autodidact: Optimism has always been America's one eternal resource, ya?
posted by absalom at 7:37 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


The film suggested we use bio-degradable source for plastic.

Currently the biggest producer of non-petroleum plastic is NatureWorks which uses corn. Other carbohydrate feedstocks are possible (soy, wheat) but no one has done it.

However, to replace US plastic production with corn would require 41 percent of US corn production. In 2005 the US pumped out 50 million tons of plastic, which would take 119 tons of corn to replace (source: The Last Oil Shock (2007), based on NatureWorks production figures) - which itself requires substantial petroleum for fertilizer, not to mention completion for food and bio-diesel.

The likelihood of the US, much less the world, moving to bio-degradable plastics anytime soon is unlikely, and it shows one more serious problem Peak Oil will pose. There is no good solution today for plastic beyond oil.
posted by stbalbach at 7:43 AM on June 27, 2007


Hey, then let's just route corn use from high-fructose syrup to plastic production. Everyone wins!
posted by hermitosis at 7:46 AM on June 27, 2007 [5 favorites]


hermitosis solution is apt. Less morbid obesity and less plastic pollution!
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:53 AM on June 27, 2007


Hey katillathehun, where I shop, they don't even HAVE ANY BAGS. You can *buy* one, but it's not a cheap little 7 micron jobbie; it's a proper reusable one.
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:54 AM on June 27, 2007


Here in Toronto (Canada) there's a big push on to get consumers to buy and use reusable bags at grocery stores(99 cents each - and a good deal at that - and they're made from recycled materials)

Toronto currently has pretty good residential recycling program. We separate household wastes into paper/cardboard, recyclable plactics and metals, organic ("wet") wastes, and garbage.

This is just an example but it is possible to do something locally.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:56 AM on June 27, 2007


If we get cellulosic ethanol, cellulosic plastic will likely be not far behind.
posted by DU at 8:00 AM on June 27, 2007


caddis asks how do you really feel about plastic bags?

This about sums it up.
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:00 AM on June 27, 2007


Bought a five-pack of the reusable bags for five bucks at our local megagrocer, use them everywhere for everything. They're sturdy, nice looking, easy on the hands, and I really can unload a week's worth of groceries from the trunk in one trip. (We limit car usage to such events, too.)

Still annoyed at how much product packaging there is, but the reusable bags are such a clear win from a usability standpoint, they should simply ban disposable bags all together.

Just carry a bag INTO the store so you can carry your stuff OUT! Easy.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2007


Lisa Schmeiser* talked about this other day, with some excellent links in re the SF bag ban, the UK "plastic bag revolt" and some of the environmental and human impact.

I had never ever thought about plastic bag consumption before my first trip to Ireland last year, and now I'm that annoying zealot/convert. I'm like DU at this point. Getting a couple plastic bags here or there is still inevitable but we reuse or recycle every single one.

I just wish I'd thought about it and got on board with reuseable bags long before now.

I wish some enterprising person would make very glamourous shopping bags, or at least very high-end ones, and then get some celebrities to be seen with them, so that reuseable bags got very chic. It worked for (PRODUCT) RED. I'm not above encouraging the masses to adopt a positive behavior through cult-of-personality or celeb-status reinforcement -- whatever it takes.

*<friend-link disclaimer... but Lisa's take on current events, SF-area issues, and commerce and culture are so spot-on that it feels like bragging to disclaim>
posted by pineapple at 9:01 AM on June 27, 2007


I wish some enterprising person would make very glamourous shopping bags, or at least very high-end ones, and then get some celebrities to be seen with them, so that reuseable bags got very chic. It worked for (PRODUCT) RED. I'm not above encouraging the masses to adopt a positive behavior through cult-of-personality or celeb-status reinforcement -- whatever it takes.

That already happened and was posted here (I linked to it in comment 1)

I'm not organic or fair trade either, mate
April 27, 2007 9:21 PM
Exposed: I'm not a plastic bag! Queues this week have gone around the block for a designer cotton bag designed by Anya Hindmarch available at Sainsbury's, the British grocer. The bag, which was designed to raise awareness of fair trade and ethical issues, was actually mass produced by sweatshop labor in China and is neither fair trade nor organic. Bags are selling for as much at $200 on Ebay. Anya Hindmarch herself has not apologized for the bag, saying: "We will be launching I’m Not A Plastic Bag in the US in June (in a limited edition navy blue) and in Japan in July (in a limited edition bottle green)."

posted by chuckdarwin at 9:14 AM on June 27, 2007


Ah, thanks chuck, I missed that link.

Still, I'd like to see it occur in such a way that the bag itself isn't the story, for its questionable production ethics. :)
posted by pineapple at 9:22 AM on June 27, 2007


I find that some stores do not like their customers carrying out merchandise that is not in the "proper" bag because it is more difficult for security to identify people who have checked out properly. But I think disposable bags are a crazy use of resources. The packaging from fast food places annoys me much more than the sub-par nutrition.
posted by zennie at 9:33 AM on June 27, 2007


Hey katillathehun, where I shop, they don't even HAVE ANY BAGS. You can *buy* one, but it's not a cheap little 7 micron jobbie; it's a proper reusable one.

I think we had a store sorta like that back when I was in college. You had to bag your own groceries and bring your own bags unless you paid for theirs (which were not reusable). The trade-off was lower prices, and in a college town, the place thrived. The town was sort of broken up into two groups. The old, somewhat wealthy folks who shopped at the Kroger, and the po' college hooligans who shopped at the Bag-Your-Own-Groceries Place (that's what we called it. I don't remember its actual name).

Which reminds me - I should start bringing my own bags. I can't go bagless 'cuz I walk to the grocery store and only have so much strength. I'm... somewhat ashamed that this idea has only just now occurred to me.
posted by katillathehun at 9:33 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


[Superbugs will] break down or collect the plastics and then themselves collect into larger agglomerations or break down.

Bags are made of polyethylene (PE), a polymer compound that isn't found in plants or animals (It's made from petroleum). There are no natural degraders for whom PE is a primary food source. PE does degrade in light, uv can cut the carbon-carbon bonds, but only very slowly. It's quite reasonable to think that if bags don't get direct sunlight for a few decades, that they may not ever degrade naturally.

There is a lot of energy locked up in the PE structure. It's a really big hydrocaron, rather like gasoline. Natural hydrocarbon degraders, which can be found in every bit of soil and every ocean in the world, need water and oxygen to work. Both are in very short supply in the places where bags tend to end up: buried or on sea floors (the benthic environment is fairly anoxic). Aerobic degraders don't work very well in these environments. There are anaerobic collections than can degrage in low oxygen conditions, but they work on time scales of millenia.

It's going to be very hard to design any collection of bugs to degrade sequestered PE. They need an oxidation source to breakdown the polymer. That just isn't available in these sorts of environments.

It's much better remove this problem, to stop using bags, rather than try to fix it after the fact.
posted by bonehead at 9:41 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


katillathehun - was the store called Lidl or Aldi?
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:48 AM on June 27, 2007


Is there a large chunk of the country where they don't have paper bags? Cause I just always always always ask for a paper bag when I go shopping and then use those paper bags as trash bags when I get home.
posted by aspo at 9:49 AM on June 27, 2007


Taxing it would be quite assinine. I hate it when the gov't decides they are entitled to my money for some reason or another. My state already does a good enough job fleecing me, thankyouverymuch.
posted by gandledorf at 12:15 PM on June 27, 2007


These are awesome. Small, light, fold up into a soft little pillow that you can pop into your bag or attach to your keys (or a keyring with all your grocery store club tags on it!) but once you open them up they are great. Same size as a standard bag, but much stronger; I've never had to worry about a sharp milk carton or something punching through.

And stylish, too! Basic black goes with everything--though the other colors are easier to find in your backpack.
posted by bink at 3:02 PM on June 27, 2007


My wife concurs re: reuseable bags.

Peak Oil is pretty fucking scary.

Yes, life just wasn't worth living before oil was discovered.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:14 PM on June 27, 2007


I think bonehead has figured out the solution to global warming! We simply sequester our carbon in the form of polyethelyne grocery bags, which pretty much lock it up forever and a day.

Win-win for everyone!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:15 PM on June 27, 2007


You've inspired me, we're going to get some reusable bags and start getting in the habit of using them...! (recommendations welcome)
posted by bdragon at 8:12 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Envirosax bags are "delightfully pretty" but also a bit pricey.
posted by Locative at 11:21 PM on June 27, 2007


bdragon - you can't go wrong with any of the natural fibre ones...
posted by chuckdarwin at 12:46 AM on June 28, 2007


Plastic waste is a global problem, but hear is an encouraging personal anecdote.

I recently traveled to Bor, Sudan with my friend Jok Kuol Wel. I was saddened to find that with the positive inrush of commerce [pdf] (thanks to the current "Comprehensive Peace Agreement") has come the negative blight of plastic waste. Plastic consumables being relatively new to them, the locals treat it like any other waste: toss it aside and forget about it. Consequently there are plastic bottles, bags and other junk EVERYWHERE!

Jok, realizing that it was for lack of knowledge, and that he had a certain level of respect due to his US education, met with some village and community leaders and informed them about the issues. Within a few days the immediate area of the village was cleaned up!

It was a small step, and a waste management system may be a long way off, but even so, it was very encouraging experience to both of us!
posted by metacurious at 9:06 AM on June 28, 2007


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