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Natural Awakenings Seattle

The Case for Cloth Bags: Cool Planet Action Tip of the Month

Mar 01, 2007 01:41PM

Plastic bags have a simple mission. They carry groceries and supplies home from the store. But for these few minutes of convenience our planet pays big-time.

Every plastic bag starts with an oil tanker chugging overseas from the Middle East. It proceeds through energy-intensive manufacturing, printing and distribution. Most bags end up carrying just a few items, with heavier products double bagged.

Some plastic bags find their way to a recycle bin, where another manufacturing cycle kicks in. But most end up in landfills or as litter. “We see bags decorating bushes, clogging drains, swirling down rivers, binding ocean life and strewn across desert wilderness,” observes Alojz (Ali) Macsai of New Life Natural Foods, an environmentally conscious retailer in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “That’s before bags break down into persistent smaller pieces toxic to air, soil and water.”

Planet Ark reports that plastic bags annually choke, strangle or starve some 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other animals worldwide. Americans alone account for an estimated 84 billion bags a year. So what can we do?

In Ireland a 20-cent plastic bag tax has yielded a stunning 95 percent reduction in use. In Australia 90 percent of retailers are part of a voluntary government program to reduce their use. Taiwan’s bag charge cut volume by 69 percent in its first year. South Africa, Great Britain and other countries are joining the campaign. “Even some U.S. cities are considering a crackdown,” says Macsai.

Smart shoppers are rising to the challenge by stashing cloth grocery bags in the car, carrying one with them on errands, declining bags at checkout, and recycling any plastic they do use. Together our actions should prompt more retailers and clerks to follow suit.


Alojz Macsai is leading the way to a cooler, more energy-efficient world with a Reusable Tote Five Percent Discount Program where he works. Cloth bags are available from clothbag.com, reusablebags.com and others.

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