[GRRN] Bags: Paper, Plastic, and Other

Bruce Nordman (b_nedg@dante.lbl.gov)
Mon, 29 Mar 1999 12:54:32 -0800 (PST)

Regarding Judi Gregory's posting about grocery bags, I've always
thought that it was an instructive issue to contrast recycling
and source reduction. My point is not to diminish the importance
of a recycling perspective, but to argue for the introduction of
an equally compelling source reduction perspective.

A recycling view of the problem is to begin with bags in the
trash can and recycling bin, and figure out how to get more
in the recycling bin, possibly by changing to materials that
are more readily recyclable.

A source reduction view begins with the use of the bag and works
outwards from there. I have observed that some people are most
likely to reuse a paper bag, and much less likely to reuse a
plastic or cloth bag. Others are likely to reuse plastic bags,
but not paper. Still others reliably use cloth.

The environment is likely to benefit the most if people use
that type of bag that they personally are most likely to reuse.
One can try to change people's reuse habits, but their underlying
predisposition is an empirical fact.

It is much easier to draw comparisons between the environmental
impact of one paper bag vs five plastic ones, or five paper ones
vs one plastic one. This then avoids having to decide the
relative impact of one paper vs one plastic.

A retailer could ask people "do you reuse paper or reuse plastic?"
and then hand over the appropriate bag.

The point of all this is that a source reduction perspectives offers
analysis and action possibilities not made apparent by a recycling
take on things. The recycling view is not wrong, but by itself

Bruce Nordman
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory