photo by greenhem via flickr
We recently reported how China's scheme to ban free plastic bags in stores eems to be working in reducing their consumption, with people apparently turning to the most eco-friendly option: reusable cloth bags. And we also recently presented the low-down on the life-cycle analysis of paper versus plastic bags. Well, Kazuko Nakano, professor of recycling science at Kobe Yamate University in Japan, has put in his two cents on the matter.
People Tend to Reuse Plastic Bags in the Home
In an opinion piece in The Asahi Shimbun Prof. Nakano essentially tells us that their are bigger problems in the world that plastic bags, though he doesn’t actually identify them. Based on surveys he’s conducted he says that only 0.8% of people actually just use plastic bags one time before throwing them away. Most people reuse them to line trash bins or for other household uses at least once before disposing of them. He also points out that in doing so people are reducing the need to purchase bags specifically for disposal of other trash. In the end, while he favors reusable bags, the current focus on demonizing the humble plastic bag is a a much ado about nothing.
However, Once Thrown Out They Still Don’t Biodegrade
In a way I agree with Prof. Nakano and in a way I don’t. While there are certainly bigger environmental problems, reduction of petroleum consumption, especially for items such as plastic bags—which are ultimately disposed of in a landfill or worse on the side of a road or a stream— or in packaging, is a worthwhile endeavor. And while it may take more energy to make paper bags, at least they are biodegradable, something which is ultimately impossible with the majority of plastic bags. Even of disposed of improperly, the litter is only around for a relatively short period of time. A plastic bag is, essentially, forever.