Attention Shoppers!

By Rio Palley

According to the environmental organization Save a Tree, it takes a 15 to 20 year-old tree to make enough paper for only 700 grocery bags.

We take it for granted that every time we go shopping, a store clerk will put our purchases in a bag. But do we really need the billions of bags we use annually?

Paper or Plastic?

Plastic shopping bags are often more convenient than paper--but they're not degradable (even the "biodegradable" plastic bags never completely disappear--they just break up into little pieces), and all plastic is made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource.

Plastic bags often wind up in the ocean and kill marine animals that get tangled in them or swallow them.

The ink used on plastic bags contains cadmium, a toxic heavy metal. So when printed plastic bags are incinerated, heavy metals are spewed into the air.

Paper bags are reusable and biodegradable, but don't come ecologically cheap, either. Supermarket bags, for example, are always made from virgin paper- never recycled--because, manufacturers say, heavy loads require the long fibers in virgin pulp.

Check the printing on a supermarket shopping bag--it might say "recyclable," but it won't ever say "recycled."

Simple Things To Do

Paper or plastic? Think twice before taking any bag if your purchase is small. If every American shopper took just one less bag each month, we could save hundreds of millions of bags every year.

Even better, bring a cloth bag when you shop. For $9, you can order a large washable canvas shopping bag with "Save a Tree" on the side. Write to: Save A Tree, P.O. Box 862, Berkeley, CA 97401.

For grocery shopping, use string bags. They're easy to carry and fold up conveniently. You get 4 grocery-sized bags for $16.95, from Seventh Generation, 10 Farrell St., Burlington, VT 05403.


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