Paper or Plastic? We Suggest Neither.

At the grocery store, when the check out clerk asks, "paper or plastic?," what's the more ecologically sound choice? Consider this: About 14 million trees are used annually to make paper bags for Americans. And it takes 12 million barrels of oil to make a year's worth of plastic bags. Bloomingfoods and NCGA, the National Co-op Grocers Association (which represents 109 natural food co-ops across the nation) suggests the choice should be: "Neither."

"For the environmentally conscious, deciding whether to use paper or plastic at a grocery store can make you feel like you're caught between a paper mill and a petrochemical plant," says Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. "If at all possible, this environmental dilemma has a fairly easy solution –BYOB–‘bring your own bag.’"
Shrader suggests making a small investment in reusable bags and keeping them in your home, car and/or office. Seek bags that are sturdy (heavy canvas is one good choice) and roomy enough to haul groceries (string cotton bags expand greatly but can also be easily tucked into a purse or backpack). Another option is bringing your own storage crates, which make loading and unloading groceries especially easy.

At Bloomingfoods, we offer canvas bags, reusable bags made of recycled plastic (sold at our cost), string bags, scrunchable nylon bags, cotton fair trade back packs and baskets from Africa, and edgy Blue Q oilcloth bags – as well as cardboard boxes. "We try to make it easy for you to choose something besides the old staples, paper and plastic, which we also offer," explains Justin Goellner, front end manager at Bloomingfoods East.

"Of course, with all the demands of life, family and work, it's hard enough to find the time to shop for groceries, let alone remember to pack reusable bags before shopping," Robyn Shrader adds. "Still, there are some options for using the least amount of paper or plastic possible at checkout." Among these:
  • Choose whichever bag – paper or plastic – you are most likely to recycle.
  • Use as few bags as necessary. If you bag your own groceries, pack each bag more fully; don't double bag. If a store employee bags them, ask them not to double bag.
  • Skip the bag altogether when you have only an item or two to carry.
  • When you get the paper or plastic bag home, make sure you reuse it: for lining trash cans and diaper pails, for packing materials, composting (paper), craft projects and wrapping paper (paper).
  • Take them to a nearby Goodwill or consignment shop that can reuse bags.
In recognition of Earth Day 2008, our April Bloomingarts exhibit will feature photos of our customers using their favorite bags or ingenious containers to help reduce waste when shopping. If you'd like your waste reduction efforts to be recognized in this show, please contact our roving photographer, Darcy.