Recycle plastic? Fantastic.February 25, 2008
In recent years, a number of countries and U.S. cities have moved to curtail the use of disposable plastic bags. The hundreds of billions of bags used annually worldwide cause environmental mischief. Marine animals mistake them for food and then suffocate or starve to death. Sea turtles mistake them for jellyfish, their primary food source. In 2002, a whale that washed ashore on a Normandy beach had an 800-kilogram knot of plastic in its stomach.
Chicago Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) and Edward Burke (14th) have sponsored an ordinance that would require chains with five or more large stores -- at least 5,000 square feet -- to have easily accessible recycling bins for their bags. The stores would be required to sell reusable bags, such as cloth sacks.
Many grocery chains already do this. The ordinance sounds reasonable and is preferable to a city ban on plastic bags. Most grocery stores sell reusable bags for a nominal fee -- often $1. Options abound at various prices: canvas, linen, bamboo, lightweight nylon.
Designers are even getting into the act. Those focused on convenience can buy bags that fold into a pouch small enough to fit in a coat pocket, glove compartment or handbag. Many reusable bags can carry more content than the standard plastic bags. Fewer bags of groceries equal fewer trips to the car to unload after a shopping trip.
The plastic bags are still convenient, and a lot of people reuse them around the house. But if you're not reusing them, try to recycle them at the grocery store. (You can take dry-cleaning and newspaper bags too.) It's precisely the attributes that make plastic bags convenient -- their virtual weightlessness and their compactness -- that make them easy to carry to recycle.
Plastic never biodegrades -- meaning its waste can do harm forever. Using less plastic is best, and recycling is a good way to dispose of the plastic you do use. The proposed city ordinance would encourage that.
Copyright 2008, Chicago Tribune