Please buy a few of those canvas or reusable bags and use them.

August 11th, 2007  |  Published in etc

Salon: Plastic bags are killing us:

Ask John Jurinek, the plant manager at Recycle Central, what’s wrong with plastic bags and he has a one-word answer: “Everything.” Plastic bags, of which San Franciscans use some 180 million per year, cannot be recycled here. Yet the hopeful arrow symbol emblazoned on the bags no doubt inspires lots of residents to toss their used ones into the blue recycling bin, feeling good that they’ve done the right thing. But that symbol on all kinds of plastic items by no means guarantees they can be recycled curbside. (The plastic bags collected at the recycling plant are trucked to the regular dump.) By chucking their plastic bags in the recycling, what those well-meaning San Franciscans have done is throw a plastic wrench into the city’s grand recycling factory. If you want to recycle a plastic bag it’s better to bring it back to the store where you got it.

As the great mass of recyclables moves past the initial sort deck on a series of spinning disks, stray plastic bags clog the machinery. It’s such a problem that one machine is shut down while a worker wearing kneepads and armed with a knife spends an hour climbing precariously on the disks to cut the bags out, yielding a Medusa’s hair-mass of wrenched and twisted plastic. In the middle of the night, when the vast sorting operation grinds to a halt to prepare for the next 700-ton day, two workers will spend hours at this dirty job.

I used those two grafs because they squashed the last of any excuses I had for using plastic bags: They’re not only hard to recycle, but make recycling harder. The entire article is worth a read, though, including some numbers on paper vs. plastic and why neither is best.

Fred Meyer sells a reusable shopping bag for a buck. They hold a lot, certainly as much as a plastic bag. They’re also pretty tear resistant, so boxes and bottle caps won’t gouge through them. For $10 you can buy enough to stick in your car, bike basket and by the door.

There are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. In the Northern Pacific Gyre, a great vortex of ocean currents, there’s now a swirling mass of plastic trash about 1,000 miles off the coast of California, which spans an area that’s twice the size of Texas, including fragments of plastic bags. There’s six times as much plastic as biomass, including plankton and jellyfish, in the gyre.

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