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Promote the recycling of plastic bags | Letter
Recent letters have supported the proposition to ban disposable plastic shopping bags in favor of reusable cloth. While I am in complete sympathy with the desire to help the environment, the proposed action is considerably less effective and substantially more costly, in time, natural resources and money, than its alternative.
I'm speaking of the simple act of recycling disposable plastic bags instead of putting them in the trash. Bins for this purpose are already abundantly available. Kirkland residents can bundle the bags together and toss them into their residential recycling containers. It is easy, cost-effective and immeasurably superior to reusable cloth shopping bags in terms of its affect on the environment.
A leading environmentalist has commented the proposal to ban disposable plastic shopping bags is largely a "distraction" to turn our attention from other issues. More than 98 percent of the environmental impact comes from what is within the shopping bag, not the bag itself.
If we look no further than the cloth shopping bag, we can see all the disposable plastic bags inside it to protect fresh produce and meat items from cross-contamination. With disposable plastic shopping bags, the clerk simply uses different bags for produce and meat. Beyond that, we need to be aware the manufacture, shipping, washing and ultimate disposal of the reusable cloth bags is not without its affect on the environment. When all aspects of the use of cloth bags are taken into account, many researchers doubt there is any net gain in terms of benefits to the environment from making the switch.
In fact, some research from areas in which a ban on disposable plastic bags has been implemented indicates the amount of plastic in landfills actually increases after the ban is enacted. The reason is disposable plastic bags are used for many purposes in the home. The most common are to bag garbage before putting it in collection bins, lining waste baskets and picking up pet waste. Deprived of disposable plastic shopping bags, consumers are led into buying plastic bags, which are generally larger, thicker and more harmful to the environment. Moreover, consumers frequently purchase larger quantities than are needed to save cost. Ultimately the excess bags wind up in the trash; and unlike the disposable plastic bags, purchased bags are usually not able to be recycled.
Let me offer one last observation: when plastic shopping bags are banned, consumers find themselves acquiring more reusable bags than they really need or want. The reason is the consumer forgets to bring
them to the store, or the shopping trip was unplanned, or the bags were left in the other car, or the consumer rode the bus that day and didn't feel like carrying a bag with him all day, and so on. That leads to excess numbers of bags collecting in car trunks, garages and utility closets. The excess ultimately winds up in the trash. Unlike the disposable plastic shopping bags, reusable cloth bags are not readily recyclable.
For all these reasons, it makes no sense to burden the public with the cost and inconvenience of a ban on disposable plastic shopping bags. If anyone feels they want to buy and use the cloth bags, let them. While cloth shopping bags are not really helping the environment, I don't feel we have to ban them.
Lets drop this subject and focus on promoting the recycling of plastic shopping bags. It's a lot better for the environment, our pocketbooks and our balance of payments with China.
Jim Lewis, Kirkland