It is known that plastic shopping bags take a near eternity to decompose if simply buried in a landfill. Certain exceptions might be relevant where biodegradable plastics or some of the decomposable material (typically this is resin code 6 on the bottom of plastic items) is used to manufacture the grocery carriers. Ironically these latter would probably get recycled!
Our care for the environment is naturally calling for a quest of alternative solutions. Back in the old days people used to run their grocery errands with wicker baskets which were almost indestructible and rather heavy duty – well fit for continuous use and eco friendly. Other similar shopping assistants are cloth bags (excellent for tools and sharp objects since they do not rip as easy) or other shipping gear made from reusable and non-disposable material. Such is leather or material which was leftover from industrial manufacturing or sewing factories. A well crafted multi-use bag can be made to take little space and fit naturally in a purse for example. They are handy to have when grabbing groceries on the way back home.
Paper bags are a solution of sorts. While they decompose and can be recycled, it would be a shame to even for a second assume that such styles of bags could be made from virgin paper raw materials – as in, actually chop down trees or harvest crops to make paper bags for shopping. They are sturdier than plastic bags and appear to be much appreciated by retailers who love to post their commercial messaging on the near-cardboard quality paper. European grocery chains like to even charge customers for them. This charge could be seen by some as annoying and driven by greed while others maintain it builds up good habits by making people bring their own bag.
So what happens when we buy a pair of running shoes? They come in a nice small cardboard box which is made of corrugated fiberboard and reasonably strong. The shop attendant would then produce a large polyethylene bag from under the counter and place the box in. If more accessories are purchased, such as extra shoe laces etc, more bags are to follow. This is seen by many as serious over packaging and is a condemned business practice. Some consumers however would be unhappy if the plastic carrier is not offered – the retailer is in a tight spot – to offer or not to offer. The only style of packs which really unites customers so far is clamshell packaging – this really spoils the party when a thermoformed wrapper has to be cracked open in the garage with power tools.
It is sad that all this over packaging is made from either paper pulp (so trees, crops or recycled material) or crude oil. With the price of the latter evidently out of control and the clear lack of self-motivation for people to stop or reduce driving, a reasonable step here might be to limit packaging. It is true that a large number of retailers have these plastic tubs at their entrances designed to recycle plastic bags. Bags are however light and somewhat bulky so quite a few bags have to be collected for a costly trip to a recycling facility to be justified. It is true that if we do not use them as much, then we will not have to worry about recycling them either.
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