Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What are Plastic Bags Made From?

turtle with a plastic bagHere's a difficult question - what are plastic bags made from?

If you had asked me yesterday I would have said "Oil". Is that what you said? Turns out we're both wrong. According to Nimic of The Green Routine plastic bags are mostly made from natural gas, in the US at any rate. I wonder what British plastic bags are made from?

Some of the commenters there seem to think he's nit-picking because natural gas is also a non-renewable fossil fuel. But I agree with Nimic's argument that:
As a community of green bloggers, we NEED to stop the hyperbole of plastic bags being made primarily from foreign oil. We have many strong and valid points as to why we should reduce or even ban the use of plastic bags without it.

For example, I've been meaning for some time to investigate the comparison between plastic bags and paper bags. I know that paper manufacture can be a very environmentally damaging activity. And paper bags are much heavier and bulkier than plastic bags so it takes a lot more fuel to transport them from the manufacturer to the store. So I've heard it said that paper bags are actually worse for the environment than plastic bags, which is a counter-intuitive claim and I really want to know the truth of it.

It's not good enough to fall back on knee-jerk reactions and unresearched assumptions. Especially if we're lobbying parliament or starting campaigns to ban plastic bags from our towns. We need to know the facts otherwise we look foolish. And worse than that, we'll be putting all our energy into actions that won't help save the planet.

Of course, regardless of whether plastic bags are made from oil or gas, regardless of whether paper bags are better or worse for the environment, the best answer is to use a sturdy reusable bag to bring your groceries home.

20 comments:

emmani said...

I totally agree Melanie... I have been wondering recently why supermarkets are STILL using plastic bags, they even train their staff to start packing for you before you have a chance to get your shopping on the belt...I always have to tell them I don't want bags!

We certainly need to be well informed about what we are fighting for when it come to eco issues. There is already a big enough 'hippy' stereotype for us to deal with when 'preaching' to the general public and governments, so having our facts straight is essential in the fight for environmental issues.

The Earth, The Animals and The Poor don't have a voice, so as spokespeople we have a duty to fight these issues on their behalf, without making the fighters look foolish.

Mjohnson said...

The government have the power to change all this overnight. Let’s make it happen. (P.S. the only shop I don’t use plastic bags in is Lidl, though I am actually learning to take my bag to other shops now, it took Lidl’s policy to make me think twice in the first place).

Vashti said...

But surely the whole "paper vs. plastic" thing is a red herring, when the answer is "reusable bags"?

Nigel said...

There was a comparison done a few weeks ago on Treehugger: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/paper-bags-or-plastic-bags-everything-you-need-to-know.php

k425 said...

"the best answer is to use a sturdy reusable bag to bring your groceries home."

We use two carriers a week for the kitchen bin. Except... This week we could only use one because we now have NO CARRIER BAGS. We use my string bag, two reusable bags for life and a cool bag. Of course, now we have to buy bin-liners!

Claire said...

For the past couple of months i have got into the habit of using reusable bags and today i spoilt myself and bought a fairtrade cotton/canvas bag that folds up into a little pouch and fits in the baby's changing bag.

el-staplador said...

I got a lovely Fairtrade cotton shopper for my birthday - the sort that folds up and fits neatly into a handbag. Haven't had a chance to use it yet, but the time will come...

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

We do use reusable bags, but when we forget(more often than I care to admit) we use the plastics to pick up trash and broken glass at the creekside and other places we go. That way they serve an eco purpose. And we pick up dog poop. Yeah, yeah compost the poop, but you have to bring it back in SOMETHING.

Nimic said...

Thanks for the mention Melanie :).

My view on the whole paper vs plastic thing... Someday you're going to be in a store, you've forgotten your reusable bag, and maybe you'll be faced with that choice. It's nice to know the lesser of two evils in an emergency.

It's also fun to know! IMHO :)

If I'm at a store sans my reusable bags, I'll usually just wheel the cart to my car and unload everything into the trunk without any bags. Or walk out with the items and no bag.

emmani said...

What happened to the pile of boxes every supermarket used to have? Probably a health and saftey fire hazard now!

Do you know what I do if I forget my bags? Most supermarkets have a huge bin at the entrance for recycling plastic bags, I just go and grab a handful from there!!!

And I'm the really annoying customer before you that holds up the queue and makes it very clear that I'm having to run around the shop like a lunatic because they don't keep boxes anymore and I WON"T use bags!!!

Ken Butler said...

We have a collapsible plastic crate that holds one trip's worth of groceries (if packed carefully), and the groceries go into it after they're paid for (and go in the crate to the car and then into the kitchen). (The crate doubles as our recycling bin: when we go grocery shopping, the first step is to stop off at our building's big recycling bins so that the crate is empty to use for groceries.)

The other issue is whether one should be driving to the grocery store; back in my single days I used to walk, wearing a rucksack; I had a *very* precise knowledge of how much I could buy and still carry it!

There was talk a while ago of whether (the Canadian province of) Ontario should ban plastic bags. It didn't happen, but the idea is in the air. I know that Prince Edward Island banned plastic bottles years ago (you can only get returnable glass ones now), but I don't know their stand on plastic bags.

Crafty Green Poet said...

my big argument against plastic bags is that they kill wildlife. For me that's reason enough to ban them. Emmani makes a good point too, in most shops when i take out my own bag I'm treated as weird, the assistant won't help me pack my bags, though if I was given a store plastic bag they would help me. This is getting better though, more and more places seem happy to let me use my own bag. I have two reusable bags in my handbag at all times. Plus a reused plastic bag as a liner to protect books or other purchases from the incessant Scottish rain

Fake Plastic Fish said...

I agree with Crafty Green Poet about the plastic bags. I fear that too often, when environmental comparisons are made, the emphasis is on the energy required to manufacture each one, overlooking other issues like toxicity, danger to wildlife, non-biodegradability, etc. Regardless of whether plastic bags are made from oil or natural gas, there is still the issue of plastic pollution that is harming the marine environment and bioaccumulating toxins in the food chain.

Bring your own, yes. But in a pinch, I'd take a recycled paper bag. Where I live in Northern California, many of the paper grocery bags are made from recycled paper, so we need to figure that in the equation as well.

Yellow said...

Mel posted a great entry ages ago about how plastic doesn't break down and hangs around in the environmen for years and years. That's what scared the socks off me.

China plastic bags said...

There're many kinds of material for making a plastic bag, such as PP, PVC. Plastic bags usually do harm to the environment.

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