Environmentally friendly? Pick plastic

John Cardie read my recent guest opinion in the daily Camera. On June 2, 2007 he wrote a guest opinion in the Rocky Mountain News. He sent me that article and I am “reprinting it” here.

As you read this ask yourself, why did the City Council choose to tax plastic bags at the same rate as plastic? Ask yourself why the Council simply did not make single use bags illegal in in the city of Boulder without collecting a tax at all.

Environmentally friendly? Pick plastic

When the grocery store bagger asked the young lady in front of me if she wanted plastic or paper, she said, “I wants to be environmentally friendly, so I choose paper!”

When the bagger asked me the same question (because baggers can’t be choosers) I said, “I want to be environmentally friendly, so I choose plastic!

Who’s right? First of all, it’s true that plastic doesn’t biodegrade as easily in a landfill as does paper. But this is only looking at one aspect of pollution and not the whole picture. A product’s “pollution profile” must be considered from “cradle to grave,” not just its end.
Plastic bags take 40 percent less energy to make than paper ones and produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions.

Paper bag production kills trees, contributes to harmful acid rain, releases deadly dioxin and pollutes large volumes of water. Plastic bag production pollutes our waterways a whopping 94 percent less than the production of paper ones.

On a pound-for-pound basis, it takes more than 50 times more energy to “recycle” paper than it does plastic.

Note that that’s not double or triple the wasted energy, but 5,000 percent more.
While it’s true, as I’ve noted above, that plastic doesn’t biodegrade as quickly as paper, 35-year-old newspapers that could still be read have been dug out of landfills. Paper bags take up more than seven times the space in landfills compared to plastic ones.

From a “consumer convenience” standpoint, it’s a lot easier to carry five plastic bags full of groceries to the car than five paper ones. Try also keeping your things dry in a canoe with paper bags vs. plastic, or picking up your dog’s droppings in the park using an absorbent paper bag – yuck!

Finally consider the fact that it takes seven trucks carrying paper bags to equal just one truck carrying the same number of plastic ones. Therefore, their transport to the grocery store or city dump wastes seven times the fuel (making prices rise) and creates seven times the “toxic exhaust” these extra trucks belch out. These additional trucks increase traffic jams, accidents and speed the destruction of our roadways.

So,looking at the total “pollution profile” and not just the “landfill life,” the next time a bagger asks, “Paper or plastic?” we should all answer, “I want to be environmentally friendly, so I choose plastic!”

John P. Cordie is a retired environmental consultant w with more than 30 years’ experience in the field. He is a resident of Westminster.

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