Paper or plastic? That is a question asked millions of times all across America each day. The correct answer is: neither! Yes, plastic and paper bags are free, and they can be reused and/or recycled. But, are they?
According to an employee at my local grocery store, Miller's and Sons, the majority of their shoppers request plastic bags, and they never bring them back to reuse. Paper is also requested a lot, but most of those are not returned for reuse either. Even though their paper bags state that they can be reused for 5 cents off per bag, most people do not reuse them. Also, only a small minority of folks who shop there bring their own reusable bags, which can be used for 5 cents per bag for store credit or donated to the local food pantry. This is a great incentive to reuse bags, but the store does not have any signs up indicating that they do this. According to the employee, they used to have signs up a long time ago, but now it just says it on the bags. If you're a new customer, you probably don't even know this incentive is offered.
At this point, I'm sure some of you are thinking "who cares?" Why does any of this matter to me? According to www.sciencelearn.org and www.cleanair.org, Americans use approximately 102.1 billion plastic bags, and most of them end up in landfills. It can take 500+ years for a plastic bag to degrade. This means billions of plastic bags from this country alone will be sitting in the landfills when our great-grandkid's great-grandkids are around. That's a looonnnngggg time. Also, many of these plastic bags make their way to the ocean, where they accumulate and cause great harm for ocean life.
This brings us to the next question: What can we do about it? Well, this is where that pesky reduce/reuse/recycle part comes in. Reusing these bags is great, as long as they eventually get recycled. Recycling is wonderful, but it does take energy. Reducing the use of these bags by not using them at all is by far the best alternative. If you don't have them to begin with, you don't have to deal with them at all! This is where reusable bags come in. They are relatively inexpensive, most of the stores carry them, and they are washable. When they break down too much to use, they can be recycled.
Most people say their biggest reason for not using them is forgetting to take them. Well, I am here to help with that! Just follow this handy link Reusable Bag Reminder to print off a very colorful and helpful reminder to take your reusable bags the next time you go shopping! Stick it on your fridge, your front door, or wherever will help you remember to take your bags. Please do you part to keep plastic out of the landfills and the oceans.