Friday, August 22, 2008

Paper or Plastic?

“Paper of plastic?” Store clerks used to always ask. When my husband and I would firmly respond, “Paper,” they reluctantly dug the paper bags from beneath the counter. Why would we want flimsy plastic bags that burst, crashing bottles to the pavement (yes, it happened to us) or rolling around in the car trunk, spilling their contents into hidden places? Well, the media reports said, “Choose plastic to save the trees.” Okay, I have always had a fondness for trees, so we gave in to billows of hard-to-carry and corral, flimsy plastic bags, dutifully stuffing them in recycling bin at the end of each week.

Now that the price of gas is so high and plastic bags, being a petroleum product, are now deemed environmentally unfriendly and trees are once again fair game. Even the local health food store has switched to paper. However, nearly every food store will happily sell you thin, reusable bags that feel like a cross between paper and fabric. (Of course,they boast the store's logo.) This isn’t a new idea, I still have my Mother Earth News “Tree Saver” bag from the late 70’s.

I’ve always liked cloth bags and I applaud the trend. However, the graphically beautiful “new fiber” bag we bought from an upscale health food store is beginning to wear through the bottom after only light use. Yet my canvas bags have held up like champions through decades of hard labor and can be revived in the laundry. While the trend to switch to reusable bags in commendable, I have to wonder if it’s simply benefiting the industry instead of the environment. Where will the bottomless “new fiber” bags go? Paper and plastic can be recycled but what about these? Give me canvas! But, those cost more, you might say. Actually, I’ve collected quite a few “free” ones over the years and a large import store recently had a giveaway. Plain ones are available for a small cost at craft stores.

Now that it’s become popular to favor the environment, let’s just be sure that our impulses to do something—anything, don’t get us into a new problem.

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