I doubt there's anyone who likes to see a plastic bag blowing from a branch or floating along a waterway.
Most of us, when we see these things, probably think, “Why do people let that happen?” Others, apparently, think, “Why does the plastics industry let that happen?”
So, while many of us go home and rededicate ourselves to the concerted effort of proper waste disposal, others have a far simpler “solution”: Let's stop making plastic bags!
And the latter, of course, are the people we in the industry can find ourselves confronted with at events from cocktail parties to religious gatherings. These are the people who write indignant letters to the editor. These are the people who initiate, or back, onerous taxes and outright bans. These are the people who just don't understand what would happen if we did, indeed, stop making plastics bags.
That's because what's getting lost in the debate are the benefits of our product. And that is what must stop.
So, while the Society of the Plastics Industry's Film & Bag Federation works to get these messages out wholesale, here are a few tidbits our industry colleagues can use in those personal situations:
* Plastic bags are clearly preferred by consumers because they are convenient, lightweight, strong, water-resistant and reusable.
* Paper or plastic? No contest. Paper bags take more room in storage and require 40 percent more energy to manufacture.
It also takes seven trucks to deliver the same number of paper bags as one truck of plastic bags. Where would stores make up the difference in costs? In their prices, of course.
And who wants to carry damp jugs and bottles in paper bags? (Hopefully, they'll be plastic containers, not glass, if they fall through a soggy sack.)
* More than 80 percent of consumers reportedly save and re-use plastic bags in multiple ways, multiple times. And like another option — fabric bags — plastic bags also can be toted back to the grocery for reuse, but take up less space in a pocket or purse and lack the concerns of spreading bacteria.
* The manufacture of plastic bags results in 80 percent less waste than the manufacture of paper bags. Plastic bags also take one-seventh the space of paper in landfills and, when incinerated, give off more energy than coal.
* And, of course, plastic bags are recyclable into other beneficial products, such as flowerpots, trays and decking.
The list could continue, but I'll stop there to add a few more words on recycling.
We know that plastic grocery bags can be recycled into other products. In fact, recycled plastic is now worth more than ever.
Manufacturers around the world are competing for this material. This isn't conjecture; it's fact.
So the problem is not that plastics can't be recycled; the problem is that we refuse to do it.
I don't mean the recyclers or the manufacturers, but we as consumers. We are all stewards of the environment in which we live. Thus, we all share this responsibility, the obligation.
There are things we do in daily life that are habitual: picking up the newspaper, retrieving our mail, making time to put gas in our cars.
We find the time to pick up milk or bread from the grocery store on the way home; why can't we find time to put our bags in the recycling bins? It should be a part of our routine.
This would benefit not only the industry, but the Earth, in so many ways.
After all, every bag in a bin is one not wafting in the breeze. It's also one less reason the plastics industry is put in the position of defending an extremely worthwhile, and environmentally sound, product.
Chairman, Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s
Film & Bag Federation, Washington