*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
I get a lot of frowns from my fellow shoppers as I pull out my plastic bags and stuff my veggies into them on my morning shopping rounds.
Little do they know, I have been using the same pocketful of bags for the last six months.
I like plastic bags because they are environmentally friendly, and I don’t like bags made of any kind of paper because I like trees. How are plastic bags environmentally friendly, you ask? Some plastic bags can be used for months, again and again. That is not so with paper.
Blaming plastic bags because they are not biodegradable overlooks the advantages of their long endurance.
It isn’t about the plastic, but the way we use it.
Granted, many plastic bags and containers are of inferior quality, but what about the ones that aren’t? Is it not true that by taking a few moments to wash and dry many of our better-quality bags and containers, we could use less paper and thereby conserve our trees? I think so.
The omnipresent hi-tech plastic-film bags (high-density polyethylene, or HDPE) that were all the rage a decade or so ago are now being phased out in favor of paper. I cannot count the number of times I have washed and dried these bags and used them again and again. They became my loyal companions, and when, after months, their time finally had come, into the flame they went—poof!
I cannot help but wonder how many paper bags I would have used in lieu of a single plastic bag.
If, instead of banning these durable, plastic-film bags, a small charge was placed on them, perhaps they would be recycled again and again by people reusing and washing when necessary—especially if they were labeled with an encouragement to reuse.
For myself, being environmentally conscious is more about how I use things than what I use. I still have a stash of legacy plastic-film bags in my cupboard, washed and ready for service. Eventually, those that remain will all be gone, and I will get more, if available, or follow other well-trodden ways to make a minimum-impact on our environment, wearing out bamboo baskets and other such carriers.
While, admittedly, the issue about the bags we use may be a minor one, conservation in one small area generally leads to a greater sensitivity to our carbon foot print in others. Washing a lowly bag and reusing it may cause us to think twice about getting a few more miles out of our car, or keeping our laptop a little longer, or wearing that not-so-stylish shirt or dress a season or two longer.
Saving a bag or two may not reduce our carbon footprint a whole lot, but it can lead to making other choices that do. We must start somewhere.
If we are not already environmentalists, we don’t have to begin in a big way, with some grand gesture that may overwhelm and discourage us completely. Instead, with a little introspection, we can likely find satisfaction in becoming a little more resourceful and creative in the way we manage our use of things.
Small efforts can go a long way toward creating habits that eventually make big reductions in our carbon footprint.
While new things delight the mind, finding pleasure in exploring the durability of things is far more rewarding long-term. It isn’t so much what we use as how we use it; what appears environmentally unfriendly can, from another perspective, be just the opposite.
It is up to each of us to explore our options.
Author: Richard Josephson
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Social Editor: Leah Sugerman