Walgreen’s Latches on to Plastic Bags, Offers Alternative Uses

The debate over paper vs. plastic has raged on for a generation.  Once scorned as they were introduced into supermarket and drugstore chains in the late 1980s, plastic bags have become the standard.  Many stores do not even offer paper bags; most do not ask, hoping you will accept the cheaper plastic alternative.

But anyone walking down a street and watching plastic bags floating in the air like giant dandelion tufts has seen enough.  Environmental and aesthetic concerns have resulted in a backlash against such bags.  San Francisco was the first large city to ban plastic bags from many stores a few years ago, earning it praise and mockery at the same time.  But now California Assembly Bill 1998 could ban them statewide, and other states and municipalities are considering similar laws.  The debate rages on:  should they just be banned, or should stores charge for them, giving consumers an economic argument to give them up?

Companies are buying into the ideaIkea has long charged for plastic bags, Wal-Mart has done a test run of eliminating plastic bags at a handful of California stores, and Trader Joe’s tries to bribe customers into bringing their own bags by offering weekly drawings for gift certificates.  Over 500 stores have signed on to AB1998, citing the costs of providing plastic bags, not to mention the ugly side effects including ending up in the ocean.  Other stores’ efforts, including crediting customers a nickel or so for each reusable bag brought to a store, have made little headway.

When I lived in Korea, I could not figure out why everyone walked to work at 7:00 a.m. with a fancy Baskin Robbins bag, thinking it was far too early for frozen dairy products at such an hour.  I eventually realized that locals were carrying the bags because they looked nice—no one of any respectable stature would go in a public carrying a cheap supermarket plastic bag.  So why not go a step further and eliminate them?  Some out there, however, suggest repurposing them–some logical, others questionable.

Walgreen’s (am I the only one that walks in there with a rumpled canvas bag?) offers some suggestions to its consumers for dealing with those pesky plastic bags.  The suggestions almost appear to come from iconic Engrish.comshoe protectors, always needed for those southern California floods, are an option.  You can also use a plastic bag as a dirty diaper holder, though I assume after a diaper is used, you want to dispose it, not hold it.  For gardeners, the plastic bag can also be transformed into a plant protector, though I had thought that like small children, plants would eventually suffocate if left in such conditions too long.  Rubber gloves are another alternative, though I hope my health care and dental practitioners do not get the idea anytime soon.

Target’s plastic bags also offered some interesting suggestions, some of which defy physics, such as a water balloon substituteRoadtrip Rubbish is not a UK reality show, but another alternative, while Tomorrow’s Lunchbag is an idea since today’s lunch is probably in a paper bag.  While I love one-liners, a plastic bag does not offer such a function, but Kitty Little Liner use is a decent suggestion, provided it does not double as Tomorrow’s Lunchbag.

All right, enough silliness at these stores’ expense.  The American Chemistry Council may fight a plastic ban tooth and nail (or keep those in a plastic bag) playing the bacteria card, but a shift in attitudes is occurring.  So forget the paper-plastic-or-neither debate.  Assuming plastic bags get blacklisted, what is the preferred optionbanning them outright, or charging consumers, say, a quarter for each bag, giving them an economic incentive to use reusable bags?  Either way, I would love to completely ditch them:  judging by all the trade show, conference, and TJ’s bags in my car trunk, reusable bags can be habit forming in a good way—while liberating us from all that trash at the same time.  What do you think?

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

5 responses

  1. Hey Leon! Can I borrow some of your reusable bags to pick up after my dog? And I do still need something to line my trash cans but I can just buy those, as long as they aren’t free I suppose they are ok. Ok, enough silliness at your expense. Let me get right to the insults and reprimands.

    Are you an idiot? Did you actually do NO research before opening your big mouth? Plastic grocery bags were introduced in the late 70s, not the late 80s. This is common knowledge to anyone that has been around a while. And for those of us that remember when they came out, they were not “scorned” but praised as a more energy efficient and stronger alternative to paper. The environmentally correct answer to “paper or plastic?” back then was always plastic. Why? Because they use far less energy to make and recycle, and they create far less pollution than paper. They also create less waste and are responsible for less landfill volume.

    Plastic bags get blamed for marine pollution, but did you know that paper production creates 80 times the water pollution? You just can’t see the poisonous toxins as easily as a bag floating on the water.

    And really, plastic bags floating around like dandilions? Where do you live? Yeah, litter is a problem, but if you are really seeing that much trash than I would say your community has a disasterous litter problem. That won’t be solved by banning this or that, but by STOPPING PEOPLE FROM LITTERING.

    Plastic bags are easily recyclable – easier than paper. Plastic bags use very little energy and raw materials in manufacture – far less than paper. Plastic bags use less oil in manufacturing – paper production is a fuel hog.

    Reusable bags are great, they really are. Use them. BUT they can’t replace all the uses of plastic bags. If you eliminate the grocery bags, people then purchase heavier bags (in packages- more waste) for things like dog waste, dirty diapers (if you had a baby you would understand), small trash can liners, lunch bags, etc etc etc.

    Grow up, do some research, get the REAL facts, and think before you start spouting off.

    1. Actually plastic bags create a ton of waste. Of all the plastic bags used worldwide, 10% end up in the ocean. It takes 1,000 years for those bags to degrade and even after they degrade (after more than 10 life times), they are still toxic to the environment. They don’t biodegrade; they photodegrade. This means the materials break down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins. They then contaminate soil, waterways, and animals, who constantly mistake the plastic floating in the ocean for food. And in the US, less than 5% of plastic grocery bags are recycled. So I hope you take this into consideration

  2. I don’t have a problem with a debate, but don’t disparage anyone or insult those with whom you disagree and then spout off facts that you don’t back up. And I’ll be happy to “grow up,” whatever that means, when you do. Love the assumptions about me that you make, too. Perhaps some facts would be a start. True, plastic takes less space in a landfill. But the amount of waste is why even Wal-Mart is considering cutting back on them. In any event, a childish rant-and-run isn’t worth much of a response.

  3. If I have to buy liners for my garbage cans in my bathrooms if I eventually run out of the plastics bags that I've stopped bringing home from stores because I now use green bags, is that more environmentally friendly?

    I think like most other environmental issues, the truth may be somewhere in between. What if we did stop littering? What if we all did a better job at recycling, and reusing the stuff we bring into our homes? Is an outright ban the best solution? Probably not. Making people pay to use plastic bags starts to assign value to them, so perhaps that step may make people think twice before they just pitch them.

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