Alternatives to plastic grocery bags are varied and readily available in a number of different forms. Some are likely at your local grocery store now. Others are being considered as community groups, and even governments, from across the country are looking into the possibility that alternatives may be not only better for the environment, but less harmful to the community's image.
The criticisms of plastic grocery bags are numerous, but there are two main points mentioned repeatedly. One, they have a long lifespan and tend to blow around, getting caught in trees and fence lines and becoming an eyesore. Two, they are made with petroleum products and thus deplete more natural resources and, in some cases, make countries more dependent on foreign sources of oil. These criticisms have prompted some to look into alternatives for plastic grocery bags.
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Though some of the arguments may seem valid, it is important to clear up a popular misconception about plastic grocery bags. The vast majority of plastic grocery bags are not petroleum based; they are made from natural gas. Therefore, while the manufacturing of these bags may be using a natural resource nonetheless, it is a different type of natural resource than what most people may think.
Three decades ago, plastic bags were considered the answer to the first great concern of grocery bagging -- paper bags. Paper bags, it was argued, led to deforestation and thus harmed the environment a great deal. Many were told, if given the choice between paper and plastic, choose plastic.
Now times have changed. Paper bags, once again, are seemingly making a comeback as one of the alternatives to plastic grocery bags. Paper biodegrades much quicker than plastic and is not as harmful to the environment when it does degrade into smaller particles. Also, because most paper bags come from tree farms, not natural-growth forests, there is a change in attitude about how harmful paper is.
Another alternative to plastic grocery bags often mentioned is a different type of plastic bag. Instead of using natural gas-based plastic bags, the technology exists to make plastic bags using renewable sources, such as corn. This bag breaks down in months, instead of decades or centuries like traditional plastic bags. Further, because it is made from an agricultural product, the bags are not as harmful to the environment. Also, because the bag is made from a renewable resource, it is not depleting as many non-renewable resources.
In addition to one-use bags, such as paper or biodegradable plastic, one of the other alternatives to plastic grocery bags often mentioned are canvas bags. These bags can be reused, which is the most efficient form of recycling. These reusable shopping bags are often available for purchase at grocery stores and big box retailers for less than $5 USD per bag.
Some communities have looked into passing a law that requires most retailers to either use paper, reusable or biodegradable plastic made from agricultural products. In California, San Francisco was one of the first major cities to enact such a law. Others have also considered the measure, using the San Francisco law as a model.