End of plastic bags?

Paper or plastic?

With luck and ingenuity, that question may become obsolete in the near future. The United States needs to find an alternative to the profligate use of plastic bags.

We readily admit the plastic bag has its advantages. It's cheap, compact, waterproof, and it makes a good pooper-scooper.

But producing plastic bags consumes millions of barrels of oil. The bags often end up along the side of the road or floating in waterways, where they pose a hazard to aquatic creatures. Perhaps worst of all, they are not completely biodegradable and last almost forever when buried in a landfill.

Many of us don't think twice about bringing home an armload of plastic bags every time we shop at the grocery store. And many houses have scores of plastic bags stored in some nook or cranny.

Efforts now are under way around the world to either ban the use of plastic bags or at least discourage their use. China, which uses 3 billion of them a day, has announced a ban on the flimsiest of the bags by June 1. Australia is considering a complete ban by the end of the year.

Ireland and Germany levy fees for every bag handed out by stores. Canada and the United Kingdom will bar stores from offering plastic bags by Earth Day, April 22.

While the United States lags behind in placing limits on plastic bags, some cities and individual businesses have taken action. Whole Foods Market, for example, plans to do away with the bags.

San Francisco last year passed the nation's first bag ban, which took effect in November. Now, any plastic bag used there must be made of compostable material.

It may be some time before more cities or states enact similar bans. But bans aren't the only solution.

Shoppers can be encouraged to recycle or reuse plastic bags. They can bring plastic bags or cloth bags to the store when they shop.

We also hold out hope that chemists will come up with a disposable bag that is not petroleum based and which will actually break down into non-polluting material if buried.

Meanwhile, we are more likely to be successful at limiting the use of plastic bags than at eliminating their use altogether. While we may take for granted the idea that everything we buy must end up in a bag, we shouldn't.

As handy as the plastic bag can be, we use too many of them in a wasteful way. We look forward to the day when the question is: Did you bring your own bag, or may we supply you with a completely biodegradable, environmentally friendly bag today?


Some nations are taking drastic measures to reduce the use of plastic bags.

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