Letter: Make an informed decision, not a trendy one, about banning plastic bags | VailDaily.com

Letter: Make an informed decision, not a trendy one, about banning plastic bags

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As a Stanford alumna, I found this current article by Clarie Thompson in the Stanford magazine comparing the ecological impact of plastic, paper and reusable bags quite informative. I urge the Avon Town Council to read this article so that whatever decision they arrive at is an informed one, not one based on trendy ideals.

“Those of us striving to be green want to make sure we’re using the most eco-friendly carrier. Thus, the question: paper, plastic or reusable cloth bags?

“The plastic bag has a bad reputation. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans go through hundreds of billions of these each year. The result has been called a “modern menace,” with stray bags gathering in the streets, the ocean and landfills, where they endanger wildlife and never biodegrade. They can be recycled but usually aren’t.

“Paper bags are biodegradable and easy to recycle or compost. But producing them in quantity requires a lot of water, fuel and cut-down trees. And they usually aren’t made from recycled material because new paper has longer, stronger fibers. Cloth bags are typically made from cotton, a particularly pesticide-intensive and water-guzzling crop. Reusable bags made from nonwoven polypropylene plastic are also common, and they’re actually less carbon-intensive to produce.

“Reputation aside, single-use plastic bags have the smallest carbon footprint, at least in terms of single-bag production. But that’s only the beginning. How we use and dispose of bags matters even more.

“Two of the most important considerations for the eco footprint of a bag (or any other item) are whether we reuse it and, if so, how many times. An exhaustive Environment Agency (U.K.) report from 2011 found that paper bags must be reused at least three times to negate their higher climate-warming potential (compared with that of plastic bags). A cotton bag would have to be reused 131 times to break even with a plastic bag, in terms of the climate impact of producing each bag. Of course, plastics can be reused as well  —  they just don’t look as trendy.

“But the answer isn’t quite as complicated as these details might make it seem. Which bag is the most ‘sustainable’? It really depends on how many times you’re going to use it and, especially with plastic, how carefully you dispose of it once its useful life is over. Use the bags that you’ll reuse the most .”

Nancy Klumb


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