|Plastic bag scheme draws questions|
|Written by WILLIAM WALKER|
|Wednesday, 30 January 2013 15:35|
The older recycling jargon used to involve the “four Rs:” reduce, recover, recycle and reuse. “Recover” has now really been eliminated from the list, perhaps because it is obvious that you must do this before you can accomplish two of the other “Rs.” And “reduce” is not really viable in this territory’s economic situation.
Recently, there has been a push to have the grocery stores eliminate the “free” plastic grocery bags used to transport groceries from the store to your home. There has been some time and advertising devoted to the purchase and use of reusable bags, which are probably twice as large as the standard grocery bag. They are (at best) plasticised fabric, and in all probability they are equally non-biodegradable. They seem to cost between $3 and $5 per bag. The public response has been minimal.
The latest waste reduction effort proposes to eliminate the “free” provision of bags with your grocery order. The argument is that such bags are non-biodegradable and seriously injurious to the environment. This action would come under the class of “reduction” in the “three Rs.”
But is it really reduction? I sincerely doubt it.
We shop weekly for a retired couple. We probably average between six and eight grocery bags per week. About two thirds of these are doubled for strength. So we probably get an average of eight to ten bags per week. Do we simply take these bags after use and gaily distribute them around the roadsides of the island? Not likely! They are far too useful in the “reuse” class of the “three Rs.”
We have five cats. They are basically indoor cats that use litter boxes. (One is a three-legged cat who was found as a kitten in a dumpster.) We use clumping litter in the litter boxes. The clumps we remove from the boxes (using a plastic scoop) and collect in a grocery bag. When full, the bag is sent with the rest of our garbage to the incinerator.
We saved a plastic can that the kitty litter came in, and we use it as a garbage can. It has a tight-fitting lid that acts to reduce odour and to keep the cats out. The can comes from “Fresh Step,” and is marginally too small for the grocery bags that we use as garbage bags. But with a bit of judicious stretching, they work. We use one bag as a liner and one bag as an active (disposable) bag. It also goes to the incinerator with the rest of our trash (in a big black plastic trash bag).
Trash bag math
If we cannot continue to get plastic grocery bags, we will be forced to purchase new plastic garbage bags. These seem to come in two sizes: three gallon and 13 gallon. The cost for a three-gallon bag is approximately $0.12 per bag. The cost for a 13-gallon bag ranges between $0.17 per bag and $0.29 per bag, depending on how many are purchased at once. Since we do not have room under the sink for a large garbage can, we are locked into the smaller bags. They cost far less on a unit basis, but they are also one third the size. So you use three times as many, and the cost rises to the equivalent of $0.36 on an equal basis.
You can buy less expensive bags at the local hardware store. As usual, you get what you pay for — the quality is less than adequate. But if you need to save money and someone just cut off your supply of garbage bags, you may not have much choice. You can also clean up a lot of garbage when the bag tears! But that is one of the penalties for “cheap.”
The end result is the fact that, in the long run, the total number of plastic bags entering the waste stream has not been reduced at all. Or, if you switch to the larger bags, the mass of plastic entering the waste stream also probably remains fairly constant.
So what has this well-intentioned incentive achieved? Probably little or nothing except public aggravation!
And, if you are going to attack plastic bags, why not attack Styrofoam clamshells? They are used to serve takeout food and commonly do not make it to the garbage can after use. Or the ubiquitous plastic water bottles that consistently wind up on the roadside? Or the bleach bottles that often wind up there as well?
In effect, as long as the cost of a plastic grocery bag remains below $0.15, I will continue to use them as I currently do. And the one store that has not bought into this ill-thought-out scheme will, quite possibly, see an increase in business at the cost of the other stores.
What I will do is request that double bagging be cut out, despite the risk of tearing.
It strikes me that the proponents of some of these ideas should think the whole matter through before setting up an operation that may or may not achieve what they are after.