A couple weeks ago, I noted proposed legislation to phase out plastic bags in New Jersey's supermarkets and big box retailers. This weekend, the NY Times took up the issue on its editorial page.
Herb Conaway Jr. of Burlington County and Jack Connors of Camden County, both Democrats who were re-elected last month, say that if the bill is not passed in the current lame duck legislative session they will bring it back next year. It would require big retailers like supermarkets and big-box stores to reduce their use of plastic bags by half by the end of 2009 and to eliminate them entirely by Dec. 31, 2010.The entire editorial is worth a read, as it covers most of the important points on the bag issue.
The plastic bag lobbyists are screaming. People like the convenience of plastic bags and would not react favorably if the Legislature banned them, says the New Jersey Food Council. Maybe so, although a lot of New Jerseyans simply find it hard to push back when the man or woman at a busy checkout counter automatically puts the groceries in a plastic bag. And a lot of Americans resisted the idea of giving up smoking until they realized the dangers involved.
Here are some facts: Unlike paper bags, which can be easily recycled, relatively few plastic bags (about 7 percent) are ever used a second time. They last what seems an eternity, probably longer than most of the people using them. They put toxins in the soil, water and food chain. They are made of oil, something we should be saving rather than using when we do not need it. (It takes millions of barrels of oil to make the 100 billion plastic bags that Americans use in a year.)
One point that was muffled (or perhaps overlooked) is that neither paper nor plastic are particularly good alternatives. While plastic bags probably require fewer resources to produce and transport, paper bags are biodegradable and easier to recycle. The best option is to carry reusable bags as much as possible. Most supermarkets now sell or distribute their own, and there are some available from specialty retailers. Really, any large, sturdy bag for the purpose.