Resist the Deceptive Lure of Poly Bags

October 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Ecopreneurs, Front Page, Iowa, Landfill

Cart by Cart bags can hold a huge amount of groceries. Photo: J Wasson

Cart by Cart bags can hold a huge amount of groceries. Photo: J Wasson

Are poly bags better than plastic? “Not much!” says Joan Burns, manager of Cart by Cart, LLC, which produces canvas shopping bags. The ubiquitous polypropylene bags sell for only a dollar or two, and sometimes stores even give them away. They’re supposed to be “good” for the environment.

You can, in fact, use the poly bags several times. That definitely cuts down on the number of plastic bags used at the checkout stand. But you only get what you pay for, and what you get isn’t really such a bargain, according to Burns, who founded Cart by Cart in 2007.

“The poly bags are being touted as eco friendly,” Burns says. “But polypropylene and high density polyethylene bags are petroleum based and will never biodegrade. If they end up in landfills, they will be there forever. To continue to produce reusable bags from fossil fuels — a non renewable resource — is simply not an eco-friendly nor a sustainable practice.”

Virtually all poly bags are imported to the U.S. Shipping them long distances (i.e., Asia) produces carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. “Cart by Cart bags are made in the United States. Buying locally — as locally as possible,” says Burns, “is a solid practice for businesses, local economies, and small farmers.” (And Burns hasn’t even mentioned the balance of trade issue, which looms large in the U.S. as a whole.)

Poly bags tend not to be very durable — their handles tear and seams rip apart after only a few uses. “What cannot happen in the reusable bag movement is to have people discouraged by lack of durability, and then just give up and go back to the traditional plastic bags,” Burns says.

By contrast, canvas bags stand up to repeated use, year after year. Burns comments, “I started a company with the mission of getting as many consumers as possible to carry with them a reusable bag for all their shopping and errands.

I did a lot of research in the form of focus groups and testing of sample bags before I made the final determination about which bag to offer.”

With difference in cost between the two, why does Burns think people will buy canvas instead of poly bags? “I readily acknowledge that canvas bags are more expensive. But canvas bags are produced from a renewable resource. They’re extremely durable; they’re washable; and they’re biodegradable.

Poly bags, on the other hand, will never biodegrade and are not easily recyclable. While many recycling centers will accept poly bags at their central drop-off locations, the bags are not accepted in some curbside programs because the handles get caught in the sorting equipment.”

Julia Wasson

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