Bring Your Own Bag
By Ann Bradley



If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you care about your community and your planet. You undoubtedly consider yourself someone who makes kind choices, not only for your loved ones, but for those without the means to advocate for themselves. Hopefully that includes our planet’s fragile flora, fauna and sea life.

That’s why “paper or plastic?” isn’t the right question. The answer is: neither. Bring your own bag and urge your friends and neighbors to do the same. As Heal the Bay president Mark Gold warned the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last January, “Fifteen minutes of convenience is not worth hundreds of years of environmental devastation.”

On January 22, environmentalists asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who together govern nearly 10 million people — to urge retail outlets to reduce plastic bag use. The vote was a compromise. What is needed is an outright ban like Australia, China, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, San Francisco, Oakland and 30 Alaskan towns. Unfortunately, the California Grocers Association and its well-paid lobbyists wield tremendous power and moan that customers demand plastic.

Some enlightened retailers are entering the 21st century with a better read on the bottom line. For example, last January Whole Foods announced it will offer customers recycled paper or reusable bags. What better way to build good will and ultimately save money?

“Central to the Whole Foods Market’s core values is caring for our communities and the environment, and this includes adopting wise environmental practices,” said A.C. Gallo, co-president and chief operating officer for Whole Foods Market. “More and more cities and countries are beginning to place serious restrictions on single-use plastic shopping bags since they don’t break down in our landfills, can harm nature by clogging waterways, endangering wildlife, and littering our roadsides. Together with our shoppers, our gift to the planet this Earth Day will be reducing our environmental impact as we estimate we will keep 100 million new plastic grocery bags out of our environment between Earth Day and the end of this year alone.”

Bringing your own bag is a win/win for you and your retailer.

It is also evident that the pollution and degradation caused by paper bag production is not a solution. To manufacture 10 billion paper grocery bags used in the U.S., 14 million trees are cut down, not to mention the pollution caused by paper production and waste. Paper is not the answer.

Neither is plastic. Made from either petroleum or natural gas, plastic bags are everywhere. Worldwide only about 1% of plastic bags are recycled and in the U.S. less than 5% of the 60 billion bags we use each year get recycled.

And it’s not just the cost of individual plastic or paper bags, but the cost to municipalities to dispose of them or repair the damage they cause in clogged storm drains, etc. It costs 17 cents to dispose of plastic bags properly and that estimate doesn’t begin to calculate the harm to our natural world by the billions of bags floating into our streams, rivers and oceans. Each year, plastic marine debris kills one million sea birds and 100,000 mammals.

As Captain Paul Watson wrote in The Plastic Sea, “All of the plastic that has ever been produced has been buried in landfills, incinerated, and dumped into lakes, rivers, and oceans. When incinerated, the plastics disperse non-biodegradable pollutants, much of which will inevitably find their way into marine ecosystems as microscopic particles.”

In 2007, Los Angeles Times environmental reporter, Ken Weiss won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 five-part series Altered Oceans. Part Four, “Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas,” described the devastation caused by plastics.

“Of the 500,000 albatross chicks born here (Midway atoll) each year, about 200,000 die, mostly from dehydration or starvation. A two-year study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed chicks that died from those causes had twice as much plastic in their stomachs as those that died for other reasons.”

Further Weiss writes, “Nearly 90% of floating marine litter is plastic — supple, durable materials such as polyethylene and polypropylene, Styrofoam, nylon and saran.”
Right now a plastic island twice the size of Texas floats about 1,000 miles off the coast of California in ocean currents called the Northern Pacific Gyre. This toxic mass began accumulating less than 50 years ago, a sad legacy for baby-boomers.

But we can change it. It starts with you. You right there — reading these words. You are not walking five miles from an African village for potable water. You are probably driving to your local market. You can stash bags in your car and use them. If, bless you, you use alternate means to get around either on pubic transit, by bike or walking, a few bags aren’t going to weigh you down.

“I am so proud to be a part of a company that is willing to walk the talk for the environment. In my 8-1/2 years with Whole Foods Market, I have been continually amazed at our ability to pioneer movements in the grocery industry.
It seems the rest of the industry follows our lead eventually.”
    Maria Mugica, 
    Marketing Supervisor, Whole Foods, Tustin, CA

Most Saturday mornings, I hold a sign at our local farmer’s market urging folks to bring their own bags. Frequently people stop, turn and walk back to their cars for the bag lying on the back seat. It is said that once you do something for a month it becomes a habit.

Make a difference! Make 2008 the year you go plastic and paper free. It starts with you right now — No paper, No plastic. Bring your own bag. Let your market and other stores know why you are bringing your own bag. Ask for a discount. In the long run, we all win when you say no to paper or plastic and bring your own bag.

Ann Bradley graduated with B.A. and M.S. degrees from Cal State L.A. She created and ran the Lesbian Writers Series at A Different Light Books in L.A. During a 20-year publicity career she served agencies including the ACLU of Southern California and the L.A. County Music Center. She and her partner Dana Champion live in Silver Lake in Los Angeles.

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