The Answer is LESS

I have been rejoicing about New York State's recent passage of a plastic bag ban, to take effect on March 1, 2020, but not everyone is as excited as I am. NPR's Greg Rosalsky presents arguments against the plastic bag ban in his recent Are Plastics Bag Bans Garbage? It boils down to this: efforts to reduce single-use plastics in grocery stores often result in the use of an alternative option, or material type, that is fraught with its own environmental impact problems. Paper bags, for example, use a tremendous amount of natural resources to produce. Reusable bags, another alternative option, may have to be used over 20,000 (source) times (!!!) to make their carbon footprints smaller than a plastic bag.

It is clear that if we replace one consumption habit with another it is not necessarily better. The production, consumption, and disposal of any item are nuanced, complicated and mostly invisible to us. And the science behind it? Flat-out confusing and often contradictory. So what is the answer? Should we be more concerned about carbon emissions or landfills? Oceans full of plastics or forests devoid of trees? Paper or plastic?

The problem is that we are trying to answer the wrong question. Paper is better than plastic sometimes and plastic is better than paper sometimes. But the best choice is avoiding all of it as much as possible. The answer is always to consume LESS. Corporations need to responsibly produce items with less packaging (perhaps with the "help" of government regulations), and consumers (that's you and me!) need to work on consuming less overall and begin to think outside the box when it comes to our stuff.

  • Choose no packaging whenever possible, and you will create no trash. (#buyinbulk)

  • Consider other means of transporting groceries. You could use a box, a bin or a basket that you already have in your home.

  • You could have your kids carry stuff. Or your significant other. Or that cutie behind you in line at the grocery store. Imagine telling your grandkids that it all started one day with your desire to consume less...

  • Heck, you could load up a backpack or large handbag with groceries.

  • Choose to buy less, and you will have less to carry. Also less to pay for. And then you can save money and get out of debt. And maybe go on a trip and escape all this madness. When you are getting your suitcase out for your trip you might realize that it would be a great item to keep in your car, so you don't need to use any bags at the grocery store. When the clerk says "paper or plastics" you can smile and say "suitcase." How cool would that be?

It's time to recognize the cold hard truth: everything we own will end up in a landfill one day. The only sure way to address this overwhelming mess is to stop owning more of everything. The answer is less.

In the meantime, I will continue to rejoice about NYS plastic bag ban because it will create multiple opportunities for 8.5 million New Yorkers to consider their consumption at some point next year, and maybe they will choose less.

For Further Reading:

Paper of Plastic, Which is Greener (BBC)

Paper of Plastic (Washington Post)

Life Cycle Assessment of Grocery Carrier Bags

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