The question of paper or plastic bags at the grocery store checkout line has always been a tough choice for conscious shoppers.
The politics of plastic bags, also known as single-use bags, has sparked local governments to take action. A growing movement among US cities to ban or restrict plastic bag use began with San Francisco in 2007. About 25 percent of the world has similar bans or restrictions in place.
Reusable bags made of canvas or recycled materials have made a strong showing in the marketplace as an alternative to the paper-or-plastic model.
But plastic manufacturers are fighting back for their share of the market.
Three large plastic bag manufacturers are suing Chicobag, a reusable bag company, for “irreparably harming” their businesses. The companies point to facts on Chicobag’s website that offer information on the negative environmental impact of single-use bags. The lawsuit alleges that ChicoBag is responsible for lost sales.
Andy Keller, inventor of ChicoBag and president of the company, said in a press release, “I don’t think this lawsuit is really about the facts; I believe it is simply a way for the industry to squash the competition and scare all of us into silence.”
Lawsuits and lobbyists are not new to the plastics industry. The plaintiffs in this current case—Hilex Poly Company, LLC, Superbag Operating, LTD, and Advance Polybag, Inc.—also sued the city of Oakland over its single-use plastic bag reduction ordinance.
The Hawaii County Council is considering an ordinance to outlaw plastic checkout bags. The bill says they do not degrade into a safe compound, they introduce unsafe chemicals into the environment, they contribute to unsightly litter, they create the potential death of marine and pasture animals through entanglement and ingestion and they create an impediment to the county's landfill diversion goals, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. Plastic bags are already banned on Maui and Kauai.
Introduced in the 1970s as an alternative to paper, plastic bags now make up 80 percent of grocery bags given out, according to the American Plastics Council. But due to their durability, plastic bags take can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, according to a 2003 National Geographic article.
The UK Environment Agency said that about 76 percent of plastic grocery bags are reused, and Save the Plastic Bag Coalition asserts on its website that 40.3 percent of plastic bags are reused as bin liners.
So who will win the bag wars? Are plastics on the way out? Are reusables the future?
Statistics of overall bag use are hard to come by, but a 2009 report from the US International Trade Commission said that 102 billion plastic bags are used in the US.
Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.
Edited by Kate Kunkel