Bring back paper shopping bags

Corporations like plastic shopping bags because they’re cheap

So Earth Day 2018 is coming up soon, on Apr. 22. Special days that are set aside to mark things like environmentalism sort of make me laugh. For the most part, environmentalism is something all of us should be embracing, not just for a fad day or something (like Movember) where we can all be the centre of attention and say, “Hey everybody, pay attention to me, I’m being socially conscious.”

I’m not talking about militant environmentalism where spoiled rich brats protest everything in our society in a hypocritical attempt at self-therapy; I’m talking about being efficient, minimizing the costs of pollution on yourself and your community and ensuring we leave a healthy environment for the generations ahead of us. Obviously, some people before our time were not that interested in some of these goals.

Depending on where you look Earth Day 2018 seems to have a theme this year, which is “reduce the impact of plastic.” Note it doesn’t say “eliminate plastic,” because you don’t need to be a hardcore skeptic to see that’s not going to happen.

I’m actually in favour of eliminating plastic shopping bags. The cheap to produce and easy to use plastic shopping bags are said to have certain negative effects on the environment, including not being easily biodegradable (some don’t break down quickly or cleanly) and cause, at the very least, a clogging hazard, they remain in landfills for long periods of time and release chemicals as they lay there, they can be a hazard for wildlife and their production process includes toxic chemicals and waste that has to go somewhere. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

Another issue that’s come to light recently is a huge continent of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Now, I’m deeply skeptical of just about anything I’m told (25 years of listening to land agents trying to convince councillors to approve residential subdivisions) and the idea of a mountain of garbage in the Pacific seems outlandish. Supporters of the mountain claim it’s not really visible because it only exists at four particles per meter. A number of experts who believe the garbage patch exists like to blame much of the problem on those infamous plastic shopping bags.

If you’re anything like me, you have a huge amount of these cheap plastic shopping bags tucked away in a closet or shelf in your kitchen. While I’d love to have the presence of mind to re-use them at the grocery store, I know I’ll forget to bring them.

The solution I’ve come across that I think is about as ideal as possible is donating the plastic shopping bags to some second-hand stores. This means the thrift stores don’t have to buy bags, the customers have something to carry their purchases home in and the bags don’t end up in the landfill. Well, immediately, anyway.

I’m not a fan of reusable cloth bags, mostly because, if you buy groceries in them, those bags are known as a comfortable environment for bacteria. Also, many retailers who only a few years ago were preaching to us to use cloth bags now forbid them due to a shoplifting threat.

In my opinion, all retailers should go back to using paper bags as they’re fully biodegradable. This probably will never happen because paper bags are much more expensive than plastic bags. This always makes me chuckle a bit when you see large corporate retailers preach they’re concerned about the environment, yet every single one of them uses cheap plastic bags.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.

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