Archive for May 20th, 2009

By Richie Gerber


Back in the mid eighties, when I owned The Bread of Life Natural Foods Stores, Paper vs. Plastic was the controversy of the day. Until then I only offered paper bags. All of us health food guys resisted going to the dark side: plastic. It was at a time when the Natural Products Industry started going through the growing pains of modernization. Gaining wider appeal in the mass-market ignited a wave of new customers to the Health Foods Industry and the need to adopt new ways in order to make them feel more comfortable shopping at our stores.

I started giving people a choice of paper or plastic bags. It became the hot topic of the day. Petro chemical, mass-market environmental hazard, non-recyclable, non renewable and unnatural were a few examples of the phrases going around describing the plastic bags. Several very committed customers expressed their displeasure with me offering plastic bags. Several even stopped shopping at my store.  Later they returned because all the stores started giving the same choice.

My rap was, and still is the following; EVERYTHING has consequences. Although paper had several positive aspects, especially that it is biodegradable among other things; there were negative problems that were not being talked about. It really is not a black and white issue. Here are several of the problems regarding paper bags. If you have ever seen a bundle of 1/6 Barrel Bags you would know what I am talking about. They are the brown paper shopping bags everyone loves to double up on, with or without handles. One bundle of these bags probably weighs over 10 pounds and they take up huge amounts of space. Critters love to live in and/or eat the paper and the glue that holds them together so who knows what happens in the distributors warehouse in order to prevent infestation. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

The transportation impact of fuel used to transport both favors plastic.  It is much lighter and more compact. So you can fit more plastic bags on a truck. It would take two trucks to carry the paper bags compared to one truck to carry the same amount of plastic bags, and the plastic bags weigh less, which burns less fuel to transport as well. And again, in real life people love to have their groceries double bagged. It’s part of the beast. Recently several environmentally conscious companies eliminated plastic bags altogether. No more choice.

Well actually they do give a choice of paper or BYOB (bring your own bag). BYOB is by far the best solution to this decades old dilemma.  I commend these forward thinking companies for bringing this issue back to the forefront. Reusable bags are hands down the BEST SOLUTION.

Julie and I always have canvas bags with us when we go grocery shopping. This is one very easy feel good act. Sometimes we are out and about and end up with a plastic bag. My tip for the day, use these plastic bags as garbage bags. They work great and you use less store bought trash bags.

Epp-BEE-Log: When it comes to the paper vs plastic debate the best answer is neither. They both have good and bad points, which tends to minimize or even equalize these two. If you are looking for the REAL answer it has to be BYOB.


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