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Saturday, February 2, 2008

When It Comes to the Environment…

posted by on February 2 at 9:38 AM

…there’s cheap talk, and then there’s real action.

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable—on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

To prevent retailers from switching to paper bags—which are biodegradable, but create more greenhouse gases during production—Ireland’s minister for the environment threatened to tax those too. And Irish retailers, who aggressively opposed the tax, are now big backers of it.

According to the NYT, 42 billion plastic bags are used worldwide every year, and most wind up in landfills. Except, of course, for the tens of millions that wind up in forests, fields, oceans, rivers, and streams. Also in today’s NYT, this op-ed about eco tourists at Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina:

The most striking thing about the drive out of El Calafate on the way to the Patagonian glaciers is the trash. Sheer, flimsy, white plastic bags, tens of thousands of them, are strewn across acres of land. The harsh wind has blown them in curtains up against the chain-link fences around construction sites; thousands have been tilled into the mud of wide tire tracks; thousands more, tattered by sharp nettles, festoon the low, clumping bushes that cover the landscape.

Taxing this shit out of plastic bags, changing what we expect at the grocery store, encouraging people to use cloth bags or, when they buy one or two items, to carry those things home in their hands or toss them in the bags and backpacks they carried into the store when they arrived: If we can’t make this kind of change—a small, simple, easy change, one that could implemented overnight—what hope is there for making the kind of big, systemic changes we’re going to need to make to slow or halt climate change?

Greg? Sally? Tom? Tim? Nick? Jean? Richard? Richard? Jan? Bruce? Slap a tax on plastic grocery bags in Seattle.

RSS icon Comments





Posted by Ryan | February 2, 2008 9:57 AM

The re-useable shopping bags for sale at many supermarkets (around $1) are wonderful. So much more can fit into them than the plastic bags and I find it much easier to pack one as I shop compared to a cart or those handheld hard plastic baskets most markets have.

Posted by E B | February 2, 2008 9:59 AM

Lead the way, Seattle and the rest of ecotopia, 'cause I need the clock to start counting down the ten years behind you that podunk Ohio will be...

Posted by emma's bee | February 2, 2008 9:59 AM

I am opposed to taxing people to break bad habits.

That said, when I have groceries delivered to my place of work by Safeway, why do they bring and leave everything in plastic bags on our kitchen counters? We won't be carrying our groceries anywhere -- that's why they are delivered.

Posted by Chris | February 2, 2008 10:06 AM

If plastic bags go away, what will I give my 2-year old cousin to play with?

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 2, 2008 10:06 AM

Why are we doing this again?

- Is it cheaper for a store to use plastic? If paper was cheaper, why do most quickie marks seem to use plastic?

- When I give them the choice, I'd wager 85% of all baggers will use plastic. I assume this is because it is quicker to pack and easier for them to handle. Why do the U-Scans never offer paper, is it because their studies confirm paper takes longer to load?

- Paper bags do not hold used cat litter.

- Paper bags suck to carry home in the rain.

- Who pays the added costs of using paper?
- Who pays for the extra time it takes to load paper bags?
- Who is going to buy my plastic bags to carry out used cat litter?
- How will I protect my groceries from the rain?

Posted by crk on bellevue ave | February 2, 2008 10:10 AM

But wait a minute - wasn't Jesus in favor of plastic bags? I think it says so in the Bible, so you know it's got to be true.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | February 2, 2008 10:14 AM

Please go read the story, Crk. People aren't using paper *or* plastic. They're using cloth bags, that they bring to the store (and can purchase at the store), or not using bags at all.

Posted by Dan Savage | February 2, 2008 10:17 AM

I'm not sure our country's life styles can go exclusively to reusable bags.

Outside a metropolitan area, groceries are not bought in a "how many arms do I have?" mentality; rather it's "how much trunk space do I have?". Suddenly you're looking at carrying 15 reusable bags around while you shop.

I'd like to eliminate plastic too, and its not that hard to tax someone for those special occasions. But nobody is going to like it.

(I wonder if reusable bags also make shoplifting easier)

Posted by grocery buyer | February 2, 2008 10:17 AM

I find that, in Chicago, the "culture" of plastic bags is that it's acceptable and encouraged to bring your own bags at places like Whole Foods and Trader Joes (TJ's even has a raffle you can enter every time you bring your own bags).

But, at Jewel (the mega-grocery store), I never see people bringing their own bags. It is definitely the culture not to. We still take the plastic bags there because we use them to pick up after our dog. But, I have been thinking that for the good of making people more used to seeing people bring their own bags, we should start doing it there too.

Posted by Julie | February 2, 2008 10:17 AM

The point was to use more cloth bags. They're bigger and stronger than paper or plastic and they last for years. I keep one in my car and 3 hanging by the back door so i remember. One of the reasons i hate going to Safeway is if you buy 8 things you'll walk out with 16 plastic bags, like everything needs to be individually double bagged.

Posted by C | February 2, 2008 10:20 AM

Sorry Dan, I only saw the link to the eco-tourist thing. You should make the important links a little more noticeable so people like me dont skim over :-)

Posted by crk on bellevue ave | February 2, 2008 10:21 AM

If people can't give up these stupidly polluting bags, we deserve to become extinct. Too bad the other species have to suffer too from Global Climate Change.

Tax (or ban!) the damned things.

Posted by Andy Niable | February 2, 2008 10:21 AM

Where I live (The Netherlands) grocery stores charge you around 50 eurocents or so per each plastic bag- you don't see many people using them. I'm from Houston, so it took a bit of getting used to, but now it's second nature to me to grab a backpack or cloth bag when I go to the store.

As for the concern about shoplifting, the grocery stores here have the scanners you see in dept stores at the end of each aisle- there's no way to leave the store without passing through one, plus security guards.

Posted by Victoria | February 2, 2008 10:26 AM

I guess no one is paying attention...
Whole Foods did this exact thing. Not to mention IKEA. Although IKEA took the cheap way out and only charges 5 cents per bag. Whole Foods is actually charging 99 cents! I think that will discourage some people from using plastic.

Whole Foods article:

IKEA article:

Posted by Ryan | February 2, 2008 10:29 AM

Friends of mine in Germany always take cloth or mesh bags with them to the grocery store and it works quite nicely. But I do agree with an earlier poster who asked how one is supposed to handle cat litter, since I use plastic bags for that myself. I'm fairly certain Europeans have cats and dogs, so I'll have to write to the ones I know and ask them how they handle animal waste.

Posted by Johnny | February 2, 2008 10:30 AM

Okay... read the thing. Interesting idea. I'm still going to play devils advocate though.

Litter aside, from an environment standpoint, do we really need this? There are companies who now make organic plastic bags that are not made from petroleum but are made from vegetable based oil. Couldn't we offer a business tax credit to stores that use such bags instead?

"BioBag is the world’s largest brand of 100% biodegradable and 100% compostable bags and films made from the material, Mater-Bi." -

What about produce bags?

Posted by crk on bellevue ave | February 2, 2008 10:33 AM

So I'll have to start buying plastic bags to line my trash can with. Currently I use grocery bags, and I use them all. The paper ones I use for my food waste, which goes into the yard waste container eventually. I use up all of those, too.

What I don't use all of is the plastic bags my newspaper comes in, or my National Geographic (WHY, for such an ecologically focused magazine, WHY?). Those go in the recycling.

Seriously, plastic bags are a trivial part of the trash problem, which is a trivial part of the ecological problem. Getting rid of them is symbolic but doesn't really make any difference.

Posted by Fnarf | February 2, 2008 10:34 AM

isn't there some new method of handling feces that involves plastic cups??

I think salon has already addressed the waste disposal issue.

Posted by patrick | February 2, 2008 10:35 AM

Sorry, I just don't see tying a cloth bag over Mr. Poe's head having the same intended effect as plastic.

But I'll let you know after the next Slog Hour.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 2, 2008 10:35 AM

Aren't plastic bags recyclable? They are included on the "yes" list of a poster from Seattle Public Utilities that my landlord has posted at the garage entrance of my building. We can put them in the recyclable dumpster if they are tied up in a bundle. For the record, I use a cloth bag (when I remember to bring it), but I don't feel guilty about accepting plastic when I don't have the bag with me since my understanding is that the plastic ones can be recycled.

Posted by RainMan | February 2, 2008 10:37 AM

As pointed out here by the cat-havers, plastic bags are reusable themselves to some degree. I use the ones I save from Uwajimaya for a variety of things, including as garbage-bags. They get at least two uses, and I don't have to purchase bags specifically to put garbage into.

Posted by Chris | February 2, 2008 10:38 AM

I think a *reduction* in everyday plastic bag usage is what we're going for here. Can't really put cat litter in a reusable bag.

After PCC stopped carrying plastic bags, I bought these:

The key part is that they each roll up into tiny wads, which means I can keep one in each of my handbags/backpacks so I never forget one. It's really convenient and they don't break. Also, these bags go over my shoulder, so I can more easily carry my groceries.

They have less girly colors, one of which I bought for my fella and he keeps it in his backpack for when he grabs some groceries on the way home.

Our home doesn't swirl with those plastic bags anymore, which is great. I hated having them everywhere.

Posted by la | February 2, 2008 10:40 AM

Fnarf, I've been reading Tipping Point again, so my mind if a little warped. This might be a "little things matter" idea. Yes, it is a small part of the big problem, but it is a very visible form of waste. Once people start carrying around cloth bags, maybe they'll unconsciously notice the *significant* amount of product packaging that surround the junk in their bag.

Posted by crk on bellevue ave | February 2, 2008 10:41 AM

So there we have it, Seattle's citizens by-in-large will infact NOT stop using plastic bags. Because some need a place to put cat poop! Do you want to be placed in paper or plastic? I hear them ask their cat poop.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | February 2, 2008 10:47 AM

they do sell biodegradable dog and cat waste bags (made from corn), which will eventually break down.

Posted by me | February 2, 2008 10:48 AM

The US will be the last country in the world to change something like this. We can't even get people to switch to the metric system, even though the rest of the world (sans maybe three other countries) uses it. US policy is to wait until things are completely in the toilet before beginning to think about how to fix it.

Posted by GregS | February 2, 2008 10:50 AM

Once again, Fnarf has it right. You all should be spending a lot more time worrying about your plastic bottles and a lot less time worrying about the bags.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | February 2, 2008 10:51 AM

do i what i do; buy flushable cat litter (Odor Lockers). duh!

Posted by scary tyler moore | February 2, 2008 10:53 AM

I worry about my animal poop. Oh, goddess...feed it to the girls..don't wrap it in bags.

Posted by patrick | February 2, 2008 11:00 AM

"There are companies who now make organic plastic bags that are not made from petroleum but are made from vegetable based oil."

Reusable is still better. Corn is vastly overproduced, and to meet increased demand (biodiesel, faux-plastic, corn syrup, etc.), South American farmers are cutting down rainforest to grow it. It's not sustainable. The difference between faux-plastic bags and reusable is between principle and practice: both are environmental practice, but reusable is sustainable in principle while faux-plastic is consumerist.

Change of consciousness through change of habit. It's beautiful!

Posted by tt | February 2, 2008 11:01 AM

Many stores now have the cloth bags available to buy, usually pretty cheap (99 cents, maybe a dollar or two). The ones I bought at my local supermarket had an extra incentive that the money used to purchase the cloth bags went to a wildlife foundation charity. Hopefully we'll get some laws passed that will kick-start more people in the country to do this!

Kind of off topic, but Dan if you're reading this - is there anywhere to find upcoming events you will be speaking at? I'd love to see you speak live (I plowed through all your books before the semester started back up in January!). Any chance you're coming to the eastern PA area in the near future?


Posted by Jamie | February 2, 2008 11:07 AM

The Red Apple gives you a 5 cent discount every time you buy stuff with one of their reusable bags.

Posted by Greg | February 2, 2008 11:14 AM

I agree that we should get rid of plastic bottles too, Fnarf. That's a tougher nut to crack, though. As Ireland has shown, getting rid of plastic bags -- which we should get rid of even if they, by themselves, represent a trivial amount of the problem -- is actually pretty easily accomplished.

We're going to have to do lots of big and little things. Add up a enough trivial, easily-accomplished things -- like banning leaf blowers and plastic bags, etc. -- and the cumulative positive effect is a big thing. We're not going to get anywhere if we say, "Hey, this thing over here is a worse problem!" every time we identify something that 1. is a problem, if not as big and 2. is very easily solved.

Solve this simple thing, move on to bottles and other bigger things.

Posted by Dan Savage | February 2, 2008 11:25 AM

"Biodegradable" corn bags do not actually biodegrade in the real world. NOTHING biodegrades in a typical landfill. Newspapers are in better shape after twenty years in a landfill than they would be if you stacked them up in your garage.

Trash is not a serious problem. It just isn't. What IS a serious problem is resource use.

Posted by Fnarf | February 2, 2008 11:31 AM

Oh, and your trash bags: you pay money for them. You can still buy plastic grocery bags in Ireland. But nobody does, because they're expensive. There's a reason you don't see plastic trash bags -- the kind you pay for, not plastic bags given away for free -- blowing around, glogging streams, and sewers, etc.: BECAUSE YOU PAY FOR THEM. So you don't waste them, because they cost money.

It's great that you don't waste your plastic grocery bags, Fnarf, but others aren't stand-up, responsible plastic-bag consumers. Their bags are everywhere. And they represent, as the story says, 2% of the crap going into landfills. And we can knock that out overnight with a tax on plastic bags. 2% here (of billions of tons of refuse), 2% there, Fnarf, and pretty soon we're talking real progress.

Posted by Dan Savage | February 2, 2008 11:31 AM

Continent-size toxic stew of plastic trash fouling swath of Pacific Ocean

At the start of the Academy Award-winning movie "American Beauty," a character videotapes a plastic grocery bag as it drifts into the air, an event he casts as a symbol of life's unpredictable currents, and declares the romantic moment as a "most beautiful thing."

To the eyes of an oceanographer, the image is pure catastrophe.

It's twice the size of Texas.

Posted by Colton | February 2, 2008 11:31 AM

You want to get hardcore about plastics? Make them recyclable. Not just to put IN the recycling, but to mandate the use of recycled plastic in materials. Ban wood 2x4s for some purposes -- house decks, for instance. The advantage isn't in saving wood -- it's in increasing the market for plastic wood, and driving its price up, and thus decreasing the likelihood that it will sit in a landfill.

In Mexico, nobody recycles anything, because they know that pickers will pull out every scrap of valuable material. Those people are desperately poor; we don't have poor people like that here. But if we increase the price, the problem goes away.

Posted by Fnarf | February 2, 2008 11:35 AM

"To the eyes of an oceanographer, the image is pure catastrophe."

To the eyes of those who research ocean currents, it is a gold mine. If we fixed the plastic bag problem, how will researchers study ocean currents?

Posted by crk on bellevue ave | February 2, 2008 11:37 AM

@38 - Careful Fnarf, someone might decide that it's easier to maintain their disposable lifestyle by creating a class of "pickers" in the USA.

Posted by Colton | February 2, 2008 11:42 AM

Yes, Fnarf. Let's do that TOO.

Posted by Dan Savage | February 2, 2008 11:45 AM

I never shop at Safeway, but I did out of necessity the other day at 47th/Brooklyn, buying only a few items. I asked for paper; the checker put my stuff in plastic. I again asked for paper, thinking he hadn't heard me. He replied "we don't have paper bags." I looked around at the other checkstands and indeed saw no paper bags anywhere. I carried my stuff out with no bag, seriously bewildered. What is up with that?

Posted by supersmeller | February 2, 2008 12:14 PM

Ireland supposedly has a major garbage disposal problem. So the problem is a little more immediate for them. Until we have garbage fouling up tourist attractions, nothing will be done.

Posted by keshmeshi | February 2, 2008 12:53 PM

Up in Canada, we have a few stores that charge for bags, and I wish the store I worked at did so. We have a couple of regulars who use reusable bags/their backpacks/their kids to carry their groceries, but they're vastly outnumbered by the people who use our big bags for three slices of ham. And, as a part time wage slave, I'm not allowed to do anything but grit my teeth, grin, and tell them to have a great day. Even if I'd get people having shit fits over having to actually pay for the bags they usually casually toss around and grab themselves (reaching over my till into my personal space, but that's a whole other rant), it'd be worth it to see a reduction in plastic bag usage.

Posted by Beth | February 2, 2008 1:20 PM

Is there any evidence that biodegradable plastic bags are really any worse than paper bags? Yes, cloth bags are best but the use isn't widespread, I shop at PCC all the time and only a small fraction of their customers (who are definitely more tuned in than the average consumer) bring cloth bags.

It just strikes me as another one of those symbolic environmental issues that has relatively little impact in the scheme of things but allows everyone to feel good, like they're doing their part. And consequently lets them off the hook when they get in their SUV to drive home to their giant house with their cloth bags full of PCC groceries.

Posted by mrobvious | February 2, 2008 1:31 PM

i scoop the poop out of the litterbox, put it into a small paper lunch bag and put it in the garbage - and i never smell it, despite having 2 pretty large-sized cats. maybe we take our garbage out more often than most?

we also empty the whole litter box into a large paper grocery bag - which we get once in a blue moon (the husband hasn't made the leap to cloth bags).

fnarf - why doesn't "increase the price and the problem goes away" apply to plastic bags? you're so often the voice of rationality and wisdom here - your stance on this is surprising.

Posted by go dan | February 2, 2008 1:47 PM

Fnarf, bud, I owe you big time for getting you into this one.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | February 2, 2008 1:59 PM

Oh no! While reading these comments, the ideas of cat poop, problem and 2 girls one cup crossed my brain, because I had seen the post earlier today about 2 girls one cup versus the spinoff! Help! Now I have a solution for the cat litter problem! 2 girls one cat box! Get it out of my head!!!!

Posted by Kristin Bell | February 2, 2008 2:01 PM

and fifty-two-eighty @ 26 - why, in this consumption-mad, resource-constrained, just-throw-it-away country, would we not worry about *both* plastic bottles and plastic bags, as well as everything else we could use less of?

when i hear so much resistance to an idea like this, i feel better when I think that 10 years ago I could never have imagined a city where you couldn't smoke in restaurants or bars. It's almost hard to remember "smoking or non?"

Posted by go dan | February 2, 2008 2:19 PM

I hate to interrupt this conversation with facts (ugh), but there seems to be some evidence that paper bags are *worse* than plastic bags. And while it's nice to think people will switch to cloth, if you ban plastic you'll be switching to a less environmentally friendly bag.

Posted by mrobvious | February 2, 2008 2:28 PM

I've been to the area of Argentina that was described. It's true. Bags everywhere. Our bags on average seem to stay put better in their landfills (the wind in southern Argentina tends to stir everything up), so we don't really have any idea about how many we use. In Argentina, the bags just don't disappear. Maybe it is better that way..."out of sight out of mind" is pretty powerful.

Posted by onion | February 2, 2008 2:49 PM

Mr. Obvious? Read first, comment second. From the post I wrote and you, it seems, didn't read:

To prevent retailers from switching to paper bags—which are biodegradable, but create more greenhouse gases during production—Ireland’s minister for the environment threatened to tax those too. And Irish retailers, who aggressively opposed the tax, are now big backers of it.
Posted by Dan Savage | February 2, 2008 3:07 PM

mrobvious @50 - dan beat me to it - and we're not talking about banning plastic bags, only charging for them (though note - San Francisco is a few months away from putting into effect a new ordinance prohibiting many stores from giving out plastic bags.

ireland's charge is a tax, which merchants must collect and remit to the government. not sure what the proposal would be here - but it doesn't have to be a tax. It could just be a product charge that merchants just pocket. Even that helps - as now we pay for the bags anyway as overhead added to the price of all products - would be nice to pay for what we want and not what we don't.

Posted by go dan | February 2, 2008 3:15 PM

Dan -

I read that but I don't think it's a plausible scenario in the US. Anyway, it's ass-backwards, you should ban paper bags first (since they're more environmentally damaging) and then threaten to ban plastic bags if retailers switch to those.

But you know that's not going to happen. So they'll ban/tax plastic bags and people will switch to paper, with the idea that they're helping the planet when they're actually doing more damage.

It's the usual going with the gut feel rather than the facts. Because when it comes down to it this is really all about aesthetics (plastic bad, paper good) and making people feel better about themselves, not making a real difference .

Posted by mrobvious | February 2, 2008 3:16 PM

Go Dan -

Tax, ban, whatever, the point is that they're trying to reduce use of plastic bags. That's great, if it results in a great use of cloth bags. If it results in a widespread move from plastic to paper it's a negative for the environment. It takes more energy to make paper bags than plastic and it takes more energy to recycle them.

You want to do some real good? Ban the phone companies from handing out those giant phone books unless a customer requests it. Seriously, those things must make up 10% of the total landfill in this country and I don't know anyone who actually uses an old-school phonebook anymore.

Posted by mrobvious | February 2, 2008 3:27 PM

mrobvious, the cite you gave said this:

"Initially paper bags use more energy than plastic to produce. However as both recycling rates increase, paper bags save greater quantities of energy than plastics"

so I'm having a hard time getting this straight.

thanks for the reminder about the phonebooks - anyone know if the stranger is providing the dumpster and the "return to sender" service it did last time the phone books were published?

Posted by go dan | February 2, 2008 3:34 PM

I'm all for a tax, and a steep one, on plastic, or just getting rid of plastic and paper all together.

The reason why I support this is because I'm lazy and air-headed. I buy the cloth bags, but I leave them in the car, and I don't remember them until I'm in the check out line.

However, I'm also cheap. If I knew it was going to cost me, I'd change my ways soon enough.

Besides, I really hate the plastic bags. When you put them in the car, they roll around and tip over much more than the old paper bags did.

By the way, when I lived on Capitol Hill and didn't have a car, I would borrow my friend's red wagon when I went to the store, and nobody ever hassled me. In fact, I got a lot of compliments on it.

I was much more stylish then.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | February 2, 2008 3:38 PM

I love this idea! The income to the cities/states/whoevers could be used for environmental projects, etc, and once people used reusable bags a couple of times they would realize how much more practical they are.

And maybe it would urge cart makers to put hooks (dull ones) on carts so that the bags don't have to go inside the cart.

Posted by StotheL | February 2, 2008 3:50 PM

yadda yadda, but still no good solution for picking up my dog's crap on my neighbors' canada. I have yet to see a corn-based or lentil-based, or dandelion-based bag that I dispose of. Nor have I seen buckets that I can easily carry around with me twice a day to hold feces.

In the words of atrios: Na gah happen.

Posted by sheila | February 2, 2008 4:02 PM

sheila na gah: good thing it isn't up to you!

Posted by go dan | February 2, 2008 4:06 PM

The best thing about banning plastic bags is, that's all it takes to build a shiny new ecologically sound tomorrow! If you start carrying your groceries in cloth bags, global warming goes away! You can drive your Escalade again, with pride, knowing that YOU HAVE SAVED THE ENVIRONMENT!

In other words, it doesn't matter either way.

Posted by Fnarf | February 2, 2008 4:11 PM

@grocerybuyer #9 - It's true that outside metro areas people think in terms of trunk space. I lived in the San Juans for several years and kept collapsible office storage boxes in the back of the car for loading food into when I went to the mainland (more or less monthly). Very easy -- roll the cart to the car, snap the box(es) open, load; and they have handle holes that are easier on your hands than plastic bags are; plus, when I didn't need them, they folded flat. I understand that there is now a sort of plastic folding crate that can be bought. Now that I'm back on the mainland, I carry cloth bags; they hang by the back door so that I have to pass them to get to the car. Easy to grab as I go.

Posted by Calpete | February 2, 2008 4:28 PM

@61: I just don't get it, guy. How is this a problem for you? Tax plastic bags, tax paper bags, then use the money for more ambitious environmental projects. Nobody's suggesting that we just stop thinking about our impact on the environment as soon as the bag thing gets sorted out.

Posted by Greg | February 2, 2008 4:31 PM

Fnarf? Who said that? Who are you arguing with?

Posted by Dan Savage | February 2, 2008 5:15 PM

Fnarf is correct, this is feel-good environmentalism that has little impact but allows people to pat themselves on the back and go back to their usual practices.

"Hey, look at these organic grapes I just bought at Whole Foods in my cloth bag!" Granted, the grapes were shipped up from South America and the cloth bag is sitting in the back of my Volvo that gets 25 MPG.

Posted by mrobvious | February 2, 2008 5:24 PM

Go Dan -

Here's the bottom line of that report, picking paper bags over plastic is not an environmentally sound choice, it's one based on gut feel. And arguing that taxing plastic bags won't result in increased use of paper bags is intellectually dishonest.

"Through a lifecycle energy analysis, plastic is the better bag. At current recycling rates two plastic bags use less energy and produce less solid, atmospheric, and waterborne waste than a single paper bag. Moreover future improvements only increase preference in plastic bags. Increasing recycling rates and reducing the 2-to-1 ratio through proper bagging techniques would further the energy preference for plastic bags."

Posted by mrobvious | February 2, 2008 5:28 PM

@ 66 - wha? where did i (or anyone) say that taxing plastic bags wouldn't result in increased use of paper bags?

i say charge (not necessarily tax) for both - and when people have paid for them outright, they can use them for anything they want to - animal poop, included.

merchants could do it tomorrow (and some are adopting various incentives/disincentives, like pcc, whole foods, et al), but the customer backlash from joe bag-entitled would be brutal. easier for them to wait for legislation (like the bar and restaurant owners did.)

Posted by mrobtuse? | February 2, 2008 5:50 PM

mrobvious: duh. Read the friggin' article, that issue is addressed.

Colton: thanks for posting the giant plastic accumulation some 500 miles N. of Hawaii. Doubtless there are others in the oceans wherever there are the doldrums and gyres.

Fnarf: Yes please, let's get hardcore about ALL fucking plastic. All of it. Now. Let's make a law that says manufacturers have to receive _all_ their packaging back. Tax plastic bags to oblivion. Let's get back to glass bottles and massive recycling. Let's do your recycled-plastic wood idea. Let's get fucking on with it. The majority of people will not change because they reach some sort of ecological-behavior enlightenment, we need to encourage behavior to change. We have everything to lose otherwise.

And you namby-pamby's whining "what about my dog's poop?" etc etc.? You're not suffering, you'll figure it out. Use the brain you were given.

"After we sample the surface water in the central Pacific I often dive over with a snorkel and a small aquarium net. I have yet to come back after a fifteen minute swim without plastic fragments for my collection. I can no longer see pristine images when I think of the briny deep. Neither can I imagine any “beach cleanup” type of solution. Only elimination of the source of the problem can result in an ocean nearly free from plastic, and the desired result will only be seen by citizens of the third millennium AD."
-- Capt. Charles Moore, Oceanographic Research Vessel, Alguita alguita-dot-com

A graphic of the Eastern Garbage Patch, North Pacific Ocean.

Posted by treacle | February 2, 2008 6:02 PM

Treacle -

I read the article, they said if merchants start using more paper they'll tax that as well.

Great, but everyone knows that's not going to happen in the US/Seattle. They've defined the problem as plastic, so they'll do something to reduce use of plastic bags and then congratulate themselves. The issue isn't what can we do to really help the environment, but rather "what symbolic thing can we do that will make us all feel good and progressive."

Go to PCC, they don't have plastic bags anymore. Instead they give out paper bags which according to the research are *worse* than plastic bags.

Posted by mrobvious | February 2, 2008 6:14 PM

Here in Fort Collins, CO, we have plastic bag recycling. Are we the only ones?

Posted by Lauren | February 2, 2008 6:25 PM

#1 pet peeve: people who insist that if an action doesn't solve EVERYTHING, it's meaningless.

#2: you can scoop dog poo into waxed paper bags.

#3: for cat litter, waxed paper bags work too. Or get a Litter Locker. It uses plastic bags, but only one per month. Or use flushable, or wheat litter, or that washable granules thingy.

Posted by StotheL | February 2, 2008 6:31 PM

Lauren, if you run across Tim Masters up there, buy him a drink on me.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | February 2, 2008 6:53 PM

Maybe I'm weird and gross, but I don't use trash can liners. I just take the bins outside and empty them into the big garbage container/dumpster.

Same with pet waste.

Also, I can't imagine having a yard or garden and not composting food and pet waste.

Posted by Soupytwist | February 2, 2008 7:16 PM

Soupy, you're not supposed to compost most pet waste.
"As a rule of thumb, you should avoid manure from carnivores, as it can contain dangerous pathogens. "

Posted by Casey | February 2, 2008 8:01 PM

Lauren @70 - yes, Seattle has curb-side recycling for plastic grocery bags, and one of their uses is Trex 'lumber' (mixed with sawdust or some other sawmill byproduct).

it still makes infinite sense to reduce the manufacture and distribution of plastic bags - as many don't end up in the recycling stream but in the places described above - and their original manufacture is an unnecessary use of resources.

Posted by go dan | February 2, 2008 8:05 PM

all of you are posers, unlike me. IIII bike everywhere on a biodegradable bike that I made out of garbage I found on the side of the road. IIII also wipe my butt with a leaf and never toilet paper. I don't use any gas and heat my house by burning the husks of corn that I eat. I also dispose of pet waste by buying a dog that eats it own poo. I never bathe with water either.

Posted by gunther | February 2, 2008 8:11 PM

Regarding terrible things going to our nation's landfills:

According to the city's guidelines, cat litter and other animal waste is not allowed in trash or yard waste. You probably shouldn't flush your cat litter, either.

Even if you had your own compost bin, the paraffins from waxed paper would leech into your compost.

I really think the bag-tax money should go toward something that we all hate, perhaps political ads on TV. If it goes to some environmental cause, I might feel good about paying it.

Just a thought -- are the Nickels-town condos compostable? Or are they destined for the landfill too?

Posted by Huckaboo | February 2, 2008 8:35 PM

@76: Can you see the corn in your shit and, if so, does your dog eat that, too?

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 2, 2008 10:09 PM

Re: Huckaboo@77:

I'm not really very worked out about this issue, but this caught my eye...

According to the city's guidelines, cat litter and other animal waste is not allowed in trash or yard waste. You probably shouldn't flush your cat litter, either.

Exactly what are you pet owners supposed to do with your animal shit?

Posted by Big Sven | February 2, 2008 11:07 PM

@79: May I suggest a sterling silver place setting from Puiforcat? Not only is the silversmith's name a pun, eating kitty's roca is a practical alternative to any potential composting errors.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 3, 2008 12:23 AM

mrobvious @69: meh. Do what you will, friend. Make the changes in your life you feel are necesary & important. And we'll take care of the rest, using laws and taxes to modify your unthinking behavior. :D I take my backpack to every grocery store I go to. bleh.

Composting: I hope folks are composting pet waste seperately from food waste. And not in the city yard waste bins ever. You can compost humanure and pet.crap, but best not to mix it into city compost (ever), or onto your victory garden food crops, unless you know exactly what you're doing.

gunther: this one's for you! someone read your post and commented on it!! :D

@79: 1850's London had a class of people called "Pure-finders" who would pick up all the dog-shit they found, and sell it to the leather tanners. The tanners would use it to neutralize the acid/alkaline balance from the lime treaments they used to de-hair the leather skins they worked with. Nasty business. But perhaps we can.. wait.. what the fuck am I thinking. Throw it in the trash!

love to all.

Posted by treacle | February 3, 2008 1:00 AM

God, what a bunch of whiners. Ireland has proven to be a testing ground for an easy, sustainable policy that has a genuine effect on the environment. But we wouldn't want to look into that for Seattle because the streets will be flooded with cat litter! What about my car shopping trips?! What about garbage bags?! This policy will only make a tiny dent in our environmental problems!

No shit this isn't the fucking cure-all, end-all lifestyle change to fix the ozone layer and give us eternal life. But as far as environmental policy goes, it's pretty low-hanging fruit, it's already been tested in another setting, and it has an impact both on the local environment and local attitudes (some real gems of which can be read above). Quit moaning that it's not perfect, or finding lame counterpoints (cat litter, seriously?). Life takes effort. Surely a group of adults can figure out how to live in a plasticbagless city.

Posted by Rottin' in Denmark | February 3, 2008 1:18 AM

Fnarf, the problem with recycling plastic bags is three-fold at least.

A#1: Plastic bags are often made with different types of plastic which is problematic. Plastic recycling works best in single-stream environments (ie when all the plastic is the same kind.)

A#2: A lot of plastic recycling gets sent to ... China, where else.

A#3: Plastic recycling is usually more like down-cycling. So it's not actually closed loop recycling.

And it is about landfills, and how they never ever bio-degrade, but its also about the numerous plastic bags that end up in waterways and then in the stomachs of marine animals. Plastic also involves fossil fuel consumption to make the plastic. Plastic bags are problematic for a variety of reasons and those reasons are valid. Basically, we should be reducing the use of all disposable plastic. By making plastic shopping bags WORTH something, by charging people 30 cents for a bag, you ensure that at the very least, people aren't going to take that plastic bag that was used for the candy bar and just drop it in the trash a half second later.

Posted by arduous | February 3, 2008 1:42 AM

Um, go dan: well, it is my choice. I pick up my dog's poop with plastic bags. If I saw another choice that was reasonable, given how frequently I do this, I would go for it.

I posted my query in the first place to see whether someone else did have a good idea. From all the harping I've seen so far, my guess is that there isn't a good answer yet.

Posted by sheila | February 3, 2008 3:46 AM

@84: "...given how frequently I do this..."

Yikes! Maybe Bowzer's bowels are the root cause of global warming? Less poo-poo, more arctic ice shelf? Every time your dog shits, the earth screams...

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 3, 2008 7:27 AM

God damn, ok ok, it will only make a small difference... we get it. The thing is, this applies to almost everything. Turning off the lights, using cloth bags, taking the bike instead of the car sometimes... none of these will dramatically change the world. But what is it some of you have against at least doing SOMETHING?! If people want to practice feel-good environmentalism that does more good than bad, good for them. And also, using less (ie ONE cloth bag over 100s of plastic one) has been proven time and time again more effective than recycling (which tends to make people feel they can use more of whatever it is they're recycling, thereby leaving their effect neutral/more harmful).

Tax the hell out of plastic bags, sounds like a great idea to me.

Also people hardly ever use as many plastic bags as they accumulate. Looking under my family(who use plastic for the trash, dog poop, carrying other things, etc)'s kitchen sink can attest to this.

Posted by mintygreen | February 3, 2008 7:59 AM

Very confusing about animal excrement - on one webpage it says its unacceptable as garbage, and on another, it says it just needs to be double-bagged (with no reference as to what kind of bag) or placed in a leak-proof container.

Acceptable in yard waste? NO

Posted by Hello, City of Seattle? | February 3, 2008 8:43 AM

Nobody ever seems to consider the environmental impact of having to wash the reusable cloth bags after a trip or two to the store. The milk bottles always have a residue on them and the meat packaging often leaks.

Posted by Mike | February 3, 2008 8:44 AM

Not to mention that many veggies will last a lot longer in the fridge wrapped in a paper towel and tucked inside a plastic bag.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | February 3, 2008 8:58 AM

You know we have cats in Ireland too. They poo and everything. Yet the country isnt waist deep in shity sand. I guess my cat owning countrymen fingered something out.

The plastic bag tax was a stroke of genus it litraly transformed the landscape in my local area in a matter of weeks.

The "It wont change everything so lets not do it" attitude of some people is almost as bewildering as the "It will make people think they have already saved the environment so lets not do it" attitude of others.

Posted by Ben Weldon | February 3, 2008 9:37 AM

You know we have cats in Ireland too. They poo and everything. Yet the country isn't waist deep in shitty sand. I guess my cat owning countrymen figured something out.

The plastic bag tax was a stroke of genus it literally transformed the landscape in my local area in a matter of weeks.

The "It wont change everything so lets not do it" attitude of some people is almost as bewildering as the "It will make people think they have already saved the environment so lets not do it" attitude of others.

Posted by Ben Weldon | February 3, 2008 9:41 AM

@90: "...fingered something out..."

LOL! Stinky pinky, I reckon...

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 3, 2008 11:16 AM

sheila @ 86 - @56 you said "na gah happen" which i assumed referred to bag taxing, charging, or banning.

my response "good thing it's not up to you", reflected another assumption on my part - that you aren't able to unilaterally decide that there won't be taxation, charge or ban.

carry on.

Posted by go dan | February 3, 2008 11:25 AM

What do you all use to line your larger trash bin in your kitchen or wherever? My mother always refused our paper grocery bags when I was growing up, but the stores where I live actually don't have them (I use cloth grocery bags). I wonder what the environmental impact of tie-top Hefties is.

Posted by Darcy | February 3, 2008 11:25 AM

"Nobody ever seems to consider the environmental impact of having to wash the reusable cloth bags after a trip or two to the store."

OK, you're joking, right? Because if you're not, you're really stretching things to make a really idiotic point.

For the record, cloth bags can be thrown in the wash with just about anything: towels, undies, sheets, rags. They can be washed in cold water, and can even be left to air dry. Washing them in a modern washer, with responsible use of the machine, has almost no negative effect on the environment.

Posted by Give me a break | February 3, 2008 6:05 PM

Go Dan, I get ya. I was busting your chops. I actually do carry cloth bags with me to the store sometimes. But when I see my plastic bag supply running low, I take plastic bags with my grocery purchase.

I don't think I would mind paying a tax on plastic bags, because I understand the impact on the environment. But I have a 120 pound Malamute. Who poops only while on a walk.

Note to some of the other posters: cats are easier to clean up after for obvious reasons, which makes avoiding the whole plastic bag easier. I think.

I was hoping that there was someone out there in the intertubes who actually knew of a better way that I had not come across yet. Maybe there still is. Guess I have to keep looking, because I can't think of one.

Dan Savage: don't you have a dog? What do youse guys do ?

Posted by sheila | February 3, 2008 7:51 PM

People bitch about it for a week or a month, then everyone gets used to it and brings bags with them. Even here in France it's been de facto for a couple of years now. If France can do it, anyone can. PS. oh FR is also 100% non-smoking too - bars, restaurants, clubs included - amazing how times change.

Posted by fred34 | February 4, 2008 5:58 AM

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