Paper or plastic? That was the question in the 1980’s when plastic shopping bags began replacing paper in large chain grocery stores. Plastic bags were stronger, cheaper, and easier to carry than paper bags. The movement was wildly successful. Plastics became the shopping bag of choice. And, there was a popular belief that plastic was better for the environment than paper. At a time when environmentalists were protesting clear-cutting and deforestation, plastic bags made consumers feel like they could have a positive impact on the environment. Plastic meant saving trees and it was supposed to be recyclable. A win-win! Or so we thought.
Now 40 years later, plastic shopping bags, disposable water bottles, and plastic packaging is overwhelming our ecosystem. In fact, according to a 2018 United Nations Environment Programme report on single-use plastics, almost 80% of all plastic waste now resides in landfills or is littering the environment. The promise of plastics recycling has turned out to be more fairy tale than anything else.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
The growing burden of plastic waste is a big problem with big ramifications, and the world is stepping up.
As of June, over 60 nations have begun to tackle the single-use plastic issue via taxes or outright bans. Some, like Canada and India, have pledged to ban single-use plastics within a few years.
The European Union has pinpointed the top ten plastic items found on European beaches and voted to ban them by 2021, as well as voting on measures to increase recycling to 90% by 2025. Many companies, determined to show environmental leadership, have eliminated plastic straws, Styrofoam and single-use plastics from their products and moved towards compostable materials.
There are alternatives to plastic shopping bags. Here are some ideas:
100% compostable bags
Use your own reusable organic shopping bags instead of store plastic bags
Use beeswax wraps instead of plastic wraps or lunch bags
Find your local zero-waste store – use your own containers
Pack your lunches in reusable containers
Look for products with reusable or compostable packaging