No More Plastic Bags!

The NYT has an editorial about the scourge of plastic bags, “which have only a brief, useful life, can survive forever in landfills and are of enormous concern to not only environmentalists but local officials who are running out of places to put their trash.”

I’m old enough to remember when biodegradable brown paper bags were the norm in American grocery stores. Not only didn’t they clog landfills but they were recyclable, making fine covers for our schoolbooks. They had the additional benefit of not spilling one’s groceries all about the trunk.

Alas, they were gradually phased out because they weren’t environmentally friendly. Dead trees and all that.

Now, they apparently want us to start carrying around reusable cloth bags. It’s probably not a bad idea, really, although a tad inconvenient.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John says:

    Here in Smithfield, VA, they grow cotton and those plastic bags are a scourge for the farmers. Here’s the problem; the bags blow into the cotton fields from the road. When it comes time to harvest the cotton, the bags get picked up by the harvesters along with the bolls and get baled up. The bales go to the gin and the bags get shredded up with the cotton fibers. The plastic worked into the fibers makes defects in the cloth and devalues the harvest.

    One grocery store in town, Farm Fresh, has stopped providing the plastic bags except for produce.

    I’m not a tree hugger but I agree with this one. I use the canvas bags and the nice thing about them is that each bag carries more. So, fewer trips back out to the truck carrying in groceries.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    I use the cloth bags for my groceries. They’re quite sturdy, so I can actually carry more groceries out of my car without worrying about a bag breaking. I hate those effing plastic bags because all they do is end up taking a whole lot of space in the house on the theory that “well, I might re-use it…”

  3. Triumph says:

    This is a huge deal in Europe right now. Ireland (I think) and France have taxes or bans on plastic.

    The interesting debate they are having there relates to the carbon footprint of plastic vs. paper. Although plastic uses petrol products in their production, they are actually less carbon intensive than paper.

    So if you were an Al Gore lover you would keep the plastic.

  4. Michael says:

    India is also having a problem with plastic bags, evidently their sacred cows eat them and die.

    I also recently heard about somebody making plastic bottles and bags from organic materials, which supposedly makes them biodegradable.

  5. JKB says:

    This like most of the “environmentalist” hysteria may turn out to be much to do about nothing. Seems while the “scientists” were running about in a panic over people using plastic bags, a 16 yr old boy in Canada has isolated the microbes the digest them.

    Now a Waterloo teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster — in three months, he figures.

    Daniel Burd’s project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.

    Burd, 16, a Grade 11 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, got the idea for his project from everyday life.

  6. Bithead says:

    isn’t it interesting that the Times didn’t succumb to the screams about the dead trees being used for paper?

  7. Snoop Diggity-DANG-Dawg says:

    I reuse my plastic bags as underwear liners. They’re nice & thin, so there’s no embarrassing ‘panty lines’, and now I can crap in my pants without staining them, saving hundreds in dry cleaning!

  8. Mike54 says:

    If we were running out of landfill space (AND WE ARE NOT) plastic bags would not be the problem. They probably consume 0.0000001% of total landfill space. Eliminating plastic bags is just another “feel good” effort that people with no analytical skills cling to as part of their environmental religion.

  9. Davebo says:

    sn’t it interesting that the Times didn’t succumb to the screams about the dead trees being used for paper?

    I think that’s because James is incorrect as to why paper bags went away.

    Originally when the plastic was introduced customers were asked whether they wanted paper or plastic bags. Consumers preferred plastic bags by a wide margin and paper bags were eliminated due to a lack of demand.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    I’ve used mesh bags since I lived in Europe quite some time ago. They were a commonplace there and I just keep ’em in the glove box.

  11. M1EK says:

    Paper bags are a litter problem, not a landfill problem, although it is kind of stupid to waste a valuable resource like oil on something as stupid as a bag.

  12. DL says:

    The New York Times against plastic bags. Though it isn’t the Times, our papers get delivered inside plastic bags when it’s at all at risk for dampness.

    Does that mean the NYT doesn’t get delivered or do they deliver it wet?

  13. Maggie Mama says:

    Ditto: less trips from truck to house and sturdier than the plastic.

    I’ve been using them for 5 or 6 months … my only problem is remembering to bring them into the store with me!

  14. Janis Gore says:

    What do storekeepers think about canvas bags?
    Do they up the risk of shoplifting?

    I like Mr. Schuler’s use of mesh bags, but are they woven fine enough to carry, say, a small can of Tone’s seasoning (about half an ounce)? Keeping them in the car would be the only way we could make a transition.

    The hardest thing I see about getting away from plastic bags is multiple stops. Today I’d like a pound of white cheddar cheese and a box of cracked wheat crackers from Walmart, chicken thighs from the local market, and a stop by Family Dollar for those cheap and not-so-salty tortilla chips. Three stops, three bags, and some days it’s worse.

  15. hln says:

    Plastic bags are great for cat litter or wrapping around covered casseroles for freezing.

    But never both.