‘Green’ bags aren’t so ‘green’ if you don’t reuse them

Anthony Holloway

Reusable bags account for more waste than plastic bags if thrown away

Mark French bags a customer’s groceries in a “green bag” instead of the typical paper or plastic Acme generally uses. The “green bags” have recently become more popular with the increased awareness of the “Go Green” cause. Shaye A. Painter | Daily Kent St

Credit: DKS Editors

Students and local businesses say “going green” and convenience are factors people consider when choosing to use reusable or plastic bags when buying groceries.

Dining Services began offering reusable bags to students last year to assimilate them to what can be expected in an off-campus grocery store, said Autumn Pillar, market manager of Kent State Dining Services.

“We saw students wanting the same luxury as they get in the grocery stores,” Pillar said.

Pillar said Dining Services purchased 4,000 reusable bags last year. She said there are only 1,000 bags remaining. With close to 3,000 reusable bags floating around campus, “maybe half of the student population who buys a bag brings it back,” Pillar said.

Pillar said she attributes the bags’ popularity to the idea of “going green.”

She said Dining Services is also looking at possible incentives for students to use their reusable bags when buying groceries on campus. One of these incentives is a discount on purchases if the student is using a reusable bag.

Advertising major Emily Lambrix said she switched to using a reusable bag this semester after incurring plastic bag clutter last year. Lambrix said she considers the bag as her part in helping the environment.

“It’s one bag you can carry everything in, verses several bags,” Lambrix said. “I have too many (plastic bags) from last semester.”

Acme store director John Metzger said both customers and businesses are looking to help the environment. Metzger said Acme started using the reusable bags to accommodate its customers’ green needs. Metzger, who said he uses a bag himself, said they are “customer-driven products.”

“When they (reusable bags) were out for a while due to supply shortages, customers were asking where they were,” Metzger said.

Metzger said in addition to offering reusable bags, Acme provides customers with areas to return used plastic bags because Acme is trying to prevent more waste than what is already out there with plastic bags and the products sold in the stores.

Plastic bag waste in the United States amounts to 100 billion plastic bags being thrown away every year according to the World Watch Institute in a September 2008 article in the Wall Street Journal. For perspective, 100 billion one-and-a-half foot grocery type plastic bags could make a chain from Kent to Sacramento, Calif., 11,184 times.

The article also cited Bob Lilienfeld, author of the Use Less Stuff Report, an online newsletter about waste prevention, saying, “If you don’t reuse them (the “green” bags), you’re actually worse off by taking one of them.” Lilienfeld referred to the issue that if someone throws away a reusable bag, the bag is actually worse in a landfill than a regular plastic bag because of the time it will take to decompose.

Assistant chemistry professor John Pendery said plastic bags being thrown away face a long life in the dump.

“It (decomposition) would take an extremely long time because there isn’t really anything that can attack it.” Pendery said. “It’s a polymer, and bugs don’t eat it. That’s how things decompose, if things are eating at it.”

Pendery said he uses the reusable bags because the bags are “fairly well-designed and light-weight,” despite the fact that they don’t fold well.

“Some are made out of non-woven polypropylene thread,” Pendery said. “This makes a durable bag (strong and flexible) and the way the bags are manufactured makes them tear-resistant. This is the advantage of non-woven material and the criss-cross pattern stamped into the fabric. It is very interesting technology.”

Freshman exploratory major Ty Long said he uses the most convenient option available.

“They (plastic bags) are just what they give me,” Long said. “If I had a reusable bag, I’d use that, though.”

Long said he knows plastic bags aren’t the best option, but he uses them anyway.

“Plastic bags get thrown away a lot so they’re just a waste, but they’re convenient,” Long said.

Sophomore accounting major William Jordan said waste is something he tries to avoid. Jordan said he uses the bags from the store because they are convenient, but he said he utilizes the recycling bins available for cans and plastic bottles.

Pendery said he thinks reusing an item is better than recycling it, though. He said contributing factors to this conclusion are the costs of recycling and the effect of the recycling process on the material.

Pendery said the real efficiency of a reusable bag depends on what process the material companies are using to make the bags. He said one example of a process to examine is the cotton industry because of the certain tote bags made from cotton. All of what goes into processing the cotton needs to be considered into its efficiency, he said.

Jordan said if he were more aware of where he could recycle the plastic bags, he would be more active in participating.

Serena Johnson, assistant manager of Wal-Mart, said Wal-Mart is one of the locations around Kent offering a deposit location for recycling used plastic bags.

“Yes, we recycle them,” Johnson said. “They (shoppers) can bring them in with them on their next shopping trip.”

Johnson said she thinks the option to bring the bags back in is better than if customers live in a community which doesn’t recycle them and they go into the trash.

Contact news correspondent Anthony Holloway at [email protected].