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Paper or plastic? Which bag is the best choice for the environment?

Michael Milstein, Portland Oregonian
Each has pros and cons. Your best move? Reuse the ones you already have
That familiar choice in the grocery line — paper or plastic? — is guaranteed by Oregon law. Although most stores use plastic, state law says they must offer paper bags, too.

But does the choice really matter for a state that prides itself on green living?

Yes, it does. But maybe not the way you think.

Paper bags, for example, take more energy to manufacture than plastic, according to some measures. Yet paper bags are easier to recycle, and plants in Oregon turn them into new bags. Although plastic bags tumbling in the breeze are an eyesore, they’re far cheaper to make.

The list goes on. But by any measure, it’s better to reuse a bag — no matter what kind — than to take a new one, experts say. Portland retailers — mainly grocery stores — are now drawing up a proposal to promote that option, which some stores say is already proving popular.

Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams called together the retailers to try to control the proliferation of plastic bags about the time San Francisco took the more drastic step of restricting their use.
(17 May 2007)
After reading the alarming piece in Orion, Polymers Are Forever, I think I would opt for paper. We recycle clean paper bags in our city’s recycle program. Soiled bags we tear up and put in the worm bin, along with paper napkins. -BA

The teeming plasticized masses’ awakening

Jan Lundberg , Culture Change
…there may be a new quality of awakening that can mushroom into a more meaningful, stronger movement. The difference may simply be that the lid is coming off the plastic container of lies about plastic itself. The tide of plastic trash is about to ebb. This has implications larger by far than beautifying the landscape or saving some sea animals.

As we begin to realize what plastics do to the environment and to our bodies, it will be an excellent test of resolve to take effective, broad action on many levels. To cut back on — or lose — the convenience of petroleum, e.g., plastics, is to face the difficult limits we are running up against when it comes to petroleum’s role in daily living and its destructive power.

…Better late than never, millions of consumers in San Francisco and other cities are about to learn this year that plastic bags made of petroleum are not a good thing and that they have been replaced. The several answers to “Why aren’t they a good thing?” will soon become apparent to all but the obstinate or the brain-dead.

Culture Change made the connection to peak oil for the San Francisco Dept. of Environment when the city agency was formulating the ill-fated plastic-bag fee in 2004. The proposed ordinance for a 17-cent fee per bag stemmed from the cost of cleaning up the city’s collected compost and the streets from trash consisting of plastic bags. The destructive effect on sea life was already known, as were the factors of war-for-oil and harm to the climate, from 180 million plastic bags disposed of in the city each year.
(5 May 2007)