This week’s environmental controversy is centered on waste and human health.


This week’s environmental controversy is centered on waste and human health. It addresses the question, should consumers have to pay for plastic or paper bags at grocery and other stores? Using the references below, write a 1-2 paragraph response to the questions posed to you. Remember to cite your sources using APA.

Background Information

Your textbook discusses the controversies associated with requiring consumers to pay for plastic and paper bags at their supermarkets and other stores. Advocates of the consumer pay system argue that bags are harmful to the environment and that under this system people would be encouraged to buy cloth bags or other reusable containers. Critics reply that many supermarkets already have drop bins for recycling old bags. They also argue that instead of making consumers pay for bags, individuals that provide their own bags should be given discounts from the store.

Questions

Based on what you have read, do you believe that consumers should have to pay for plastic or paper bags at grocery and other stores? What arguments most influenced your decision? How would you explain your position to someone who disagrees with you?

Paper or Plastic

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Section:

CURRENTS

The Best Answer May be “Neither”

Each year, Americans use more than 100 billion plastic shopping bags, consuming an estimated 12 million barrels of oil. After a very short working life, these bags retire to landfills where they take 500 or more years to break down, or become litter that clogs storm drains and threatens marine wildlife. City governments that have passed or are considering plastic bag bans include Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Portland, Oregon, California cities San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Monica, Boston, and both Annapolis and Baltimore in Maryland. Consumers in these cities must use paper or bring their own bags.

Sam Shropshire, a Democratic city council member in Annapolis, says that many city residents moved to the city to be close to Chesapeake Bay, which is being damaged by the 95 percent of plastic checkout bags that end up in landfills or the environment. “We intend to put a stop to it right here in Annapolis,” he says. Large chains will have six months to stop using plastic; smaller companies nine months. Merchants can substitute 100 percent recycled paper bags for the banned plastic.

According to Reusablebags.com, four of five shopping bags are made from plastic, and the average American family accumulates 60 of these “free” bags in only four trips to the grocery store. More than 90 percent of plastic bags are simply thrown away. Arthur Liu, account executive at EPI Environmental Products, says the plastic bags in landfills take up space and don’t allow food and other garbage inside them to break down with the help of oxygen.

“Plastic is still pretty new, and a lot of (plastic bags] manufactured half a century ago are still around,” he says. Neil Seidman of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says “Accumulating plastic is destroying our rivers and oceans.” In the debate between paper and plastic, however, the real answer may be neither. Reusablebags.com President Vince Cobb says that paper bags are also resource- and energy-intensive. According to his site, paper bag production generates 70 percent more air pollution than plastic, and while paper bags are recycled at a higher rate than plastic, 91 percent less energy is needed to recycle a pound of plastic than a pound of paper.

“I wanted to know, paper or plastic?” Cobb says. “But that question doesn’t hit the heart of the matter. If you want to make a difference, consume less.”

Amar Mohanty, associate professor at the School of Packaging at Michigan State University, says that in a compost pile, paper bags will take just two to five months to biodegrade. But in terms of resource consumption, he says plastic bags are superior. “We are depleting the forests and we also use a large amount of water and energy to produce these paper bags,” Mohanty says.

While some cities are pushing for outright plastic bans, in 2003 Ireland introduced the “Plastax,” levying a fee of approximately 29 cents on each plastic bag a shopper uses. Cobb says he considers the tax to be widely successful, reducing Ireland’s annual 1.2-billion-bag habit by 90 percent. That’s one billion fewer bags. “The brilliance in the Plastax is that they tagged a cost on an item conceived as free,” Cobb says.

Other alternatives to bans are also available. EPI distributes an environmentally benign chemical additive to packaging companies that Liu says can break down plastic bags completely from a few months to a few years. The bags break into pieces through a process called photo degradation. When the pieces are small enough, microorganisms can ingest and biodegrade them in a completely non-toxic process, Liu says.

“Banning plastic bags is not a very good solution because you don’t give people an alternative,” Liu says. “Plastic gives us convenience, hygiene and other benefits, so I think we need a less-drastic solution.”

Rayton Packaging President Patrick Arnell says his company annually makes 100 million additive-treated bags, some of which go to Costco, WalMart and other supermarkets. The treated bags add a five to 10 percent price premium.

Mohanty argues, however, that chemical additives will only help a bag degrade if it is exposed to constant light and oxygen. Buried in a landfill, it may be unable to degrade.

Trellis Earth of Portland, Oregon makes corn-based plastics from polylactic acid (PLA) into bags that biodegrade in 120 days. “People are looking for a green alternative,” says Trellis Earth cofounder Chad Biasi.

Though PLA could be used to make alternatives to petroleum-based polyethylene bags, Mohanty says the limited size of U.S. corn crops (already facing increased pressure from the ethanol industry) won’t be able to meet the demand.

The market for degradable and renewable resource-based plastics is continuing to grow. South American companies are making “green” polyethylene from sugar cane. This process reduces greenhouse gas emissions but the final product is not biodegradable. Other researchers are looking at wood waste, grasses, wheat straw and rice straw as possible source material for “green” plastic production.

The drawback to most of these processes is high cost. “The keystone of success in bio-based and biodegradable packaging depends on maintaining a balance among ecology, economy and technology,” Mohanty says.

Cobb isn’t convinced. “Neither recycling nor biodegradable bags are the answer,” he says. “We need to reduce usage.”

Reusable bags help achieve that goal. Some stores, including Whole Foods, now give a 5 to 10 cent credit for each reusable bag a shopper brings, and others (Ikea among them) have started charging customers the same amount for each plastic bag.

2Nd article

New plastic bags that dispose of themselves!

[Bicknell] has contracted with a manufacturer to make kitchen bags, larger 40-gallon bags and dog poop bags. Each product is made with durable plastic and a chemical additive that activates once the bag is exposed to the methane gases that develop in a typical landfill. She said there would be “zero” toxic residues as the bag breaks down.

“We’ve done some charity events in Hollywood, such as one for an animal shelter,” Bicknell said. “People loved the dog pickup bags and the whole idea of biodegradable bags that are still strong enough to hold the garbage.”

Vegetarian chicken drumsticks; tofu kielbasa and beer brats; meatless chicken-style strips for salads; super-sized containers of juice smoothies; Japanese-bento box-style filet of salmon frozen dinner; 100 percent pomegranate juice (due in major Chicago supermarkets this summer, selling fast in southern California); 100 percent blueberry juice (look for individual juice boxes in Chicago during the coming months); red tea products claiming more antioxidants than green tea (one brand already is in 3,000 supermarkets on the East Coast); and bottled waters from such faraway places as New Zealand and Fiji.

ANAHEIM–A future in plastics may be most closely associated with a line delivered to Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” but Dodonna Bicknell is living her own 2003 version.

She has co-founded Planet Friendly Plastics, which debuted its product line of completely biodegradable plastic bags at last weekend’s Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim.

“I felt I needed to do something positive for the environment,” said Bicknell, an executive producer at the commercial-making firm Uncle TV and creator of television ads for such past clients as Nike, Microsoft and the National Cotton Council.

“I always wondered what happens to landfills. We started the company about a year ago and started making products three to four months ago,” Bicknell said.

Bicknell has contracted with a manufacturer to make kitchen bags, larger 40-gallon bags and dog poop bags. Each product is made with durable plastic and a chemical additive that activates once the bag is exposed to the methane gases that develop in a typical landfill. She said there would be “zero” toxic residues as the bag breaks down.

“We plan to be competitive in pricing,” said Bicknell, noting other makers of cornstarch-based, non-plastic bags must charge more because it costs more to make the product.

For now, the seasoned producer is counting on word-of-mouth marketing and raised consumer consciousness rather than doing any TV spots for her own product line. Another strategy is making custom bags for grocery chains–and altering the answer to the question “paper or plastic?”

“We’ve done some charity events in Hollywood, such as one for an animal shelter,” Bicknell said. “People loved the dog pickup bags and the whole idea of biodegradable bags that are still strong enough to hold the garbage.”

Bicknell is thinking big. The company plans to expand into such products as water bottles, food trays, eating utensils and more. She envisions Planet Friendly Plastics logos on goods in places from airplanes to schools.

“I’m especially excited about the concept of teaching kids about becoming more environmentally conscious,” Bicknell said. “We’ve put more money into the company than expected, but I think we can do amazing things.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Anyone cruising the aisles at March’s Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim needed a strategy for both viewing the exhibits and sampling the wares. Otherwise, both sore feet and upset stomachs would result.

That’s why one massage-therapy booth featuring mini-sessions of foot reflexlogy (a healing discipline that can relieve sore feet and address medical concerns) was a bustle of activity. Here’s a mere swatch of what was exhibited at the show:

Vegetarian chicken drumsticks; tofu kielbasa and beer brats; meatless chicken-style strips for salads; super-sized containers of juice smoothies; Japanese-bento box-style filet of salmon frozen dinner; 100 percent pomegranate juice (due in major Chicago supermarkets this summer, selling fast in southern California); 100 percent blueberry juice (look for individual juice boxes in Chicago during the coming months); red tea products claiming more antioxidants than green tea (one brand already is in 3,000 supermarkets on the East Coast); and bottled waters from such faraway places as New Zealand and Fiji.

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