Plastic-Free Plastic Bags

August 1st, 2011

Just last month, the county of California in which I live enacted a sweeping ban of lightweight plastic grocery bags.  Now, whenever you go to the supermarket or pharmacy, you must:  (1) remember to bring your own bags, (2) carry all of your loose items out of the store by hand, or (3) pay the store 10 cents for a paper bag.  Ugh.

We can debate the environmental impact of paper vs. plastic bags at some other time.  I think a far more pressing concern is what Pasadena’s large homeless population will use as toilets now that the ubiquitous plastic grocery bags are no longer available.

Just yesterday, I happened across this lovely scene outside an Albertson’s grocery store in Calabasas:

The whole parking lot was littered with those red and white signs touting “NO PLASTIC BAGS”.  Of course, when you go inside, this is what they are peddling:

Those look like bags to me.  (They are sold as “reusable” bags, but please tell me what type of bag is not reusable.)  The one on the left was purchased from inside the Calabasas store.  The bag on the right is from a rival grocery chain, Ralph’s.  So, if not plastic, what is the magical substance from which these bags are constructed?

Polypropylene.  Not just good-ol’ SPI resin identification code No. 5 polypropylene, but virgin/non-recycled good-ol’ SPI resin identification code No. 5 polypropylene.

Chemists, please note…effective immediately,  “plastic” = polyethylene.  Polypropylene is “all natural”, “organic“, “reusable”, and “eco-friendly”.  Basically, everything but “plastic”.

Remind you of anything?

9 Responses to “Plastic-Free Plastic Bags”

  1. Milo Says:

    At my local super market, there was a guy trying to promote the use of paper bags over plastic. His argument was that plastic came from oil, and oil was bad. Paper, on the other hand, came from renewable trees. I asked him how clean the Kraft process was for making paper. He looked at me funny, clearly he was thinking “they use cheese for for paper making?”

  2. Carmen Says:

    Thanks for the plug. As I’m sure you’ve heard, in DC we have a 5 cent bag tax. What spurred this was an effort to save the Anacostia River from further pollution, as I recall.

    I think DC’s law (what I’ve read of it, admittedly not the full text) is a little less aggravating from a chemistry terminology standpoint, since they refer to ‘disposable plastic bags’. I guess technically any plastic bag is disposable but pretty much all the reuseable ones I own are gifts, so I’d feel guilty chucking them. That, and they wash pretty well in the gentle cycle.

  3. wolfie Says:

    I still have a red woven conference bag from the Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor, Maine, and we use it as the kindergarten bag for my older son, having the rubber boots, ersatz clothing, and so on.

    Can I post images here ?

  4. Paul Says:

    Carmen: The main thing I dislike about the polypropylene bags is that the labels say not to wash them by machine. Do you know if they rip if you wash them under a normal cycle, or is this an issue with colorfastness?

    Wolfie: E-mail me your pics

  5. Renee Says:

    I took a look at the earthwise bag website. They do make bags made from recycled PET (polyester), the same kind that drink bottles are made from. So, that’s a start.

    These bags aren’t organic by a long shot. But they do end up causing fewer bags ending up in landfills or waterways.

    Papermaking is pretty water and energy intensive, and the initial pulping process from wood generates a lot of waste.

  6. Helen Says:

    I still recall when one supermarket chain introduced eco-friendly biodegradable plastic bags. They were so “green”, most bags were already half degraded before I reached home, with items falling out as the bag was disintegrating in front of my eyes.

  7. Sonja Says:

    Kudos on the ref back to Carmen’s #altchemfree. And I agree with Helen – it annoys me to no end when I get a disposable plastic bag that I’m forced to dispose of because the massive holes in it render it un-reusable.

  8. Says:

    All of these, during their recycling process, generates tons of wastes and utilizes great amount of energy. However, plastic bags compared to paper and that cotton/fabric bag, are much helpful when it comes to usability since plastics can be reused as many as possible.

  9. Rebecca Says:

    We used to have to request paper bags for our groceries, because our newspaper recycler required bundling them using string or paper grocery bags.

    Then we got a cat, so we needed disposable plastic bags for the litter box cleanup.

    Eventually the cat ran away, so now we can be “green.”

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