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Green Living: Grocery Bags

The best choice for grocery bags are reuseable canvas bags. These bags are durable, can be reused an estimated 500 times and are far more environmentally friendly than paper or plastic bags. Check your local grocery store for these bags, as most have branded canvas bags available for free or a small charge, one or two dollars each.

Contrary to popular belief paper bags are not necessarily better for the environment than plastic bags. Research has shown that paper bags use more water and energy and emit more greenhouse gas emissions in the production and recycling process as compared to plastic bags. Paper also takes up more landfill space and can take as long to decompose in overflowing landfills. Plastic takes at least 500 to 1,000 years to photodegrade, use non-renewable fossil fuels as the primary raw material and end up as litter everywhere, which can be harmful to animal life, especially in and around water.

Click here for a 5-page report from Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality on the benefits of reuseable canvas compared to paper and plastic.

Should you decide to stick with paper or plastic, choose based on your intentions for the bag after the grocery store:

Plastic Bags
Reuse - the bags are relatively strong and can be used as garbage can liners or for carrying items such as a change of clothes or your lunch items.
Recycle - these bags are generally not recycleable with your other recycleable goods, but can be dropped off at an increasing number of stores for recycling.

Paper Bags
Reuse - the bags are rather weak, but can be used in a wide variety of ways. Some include as a cooling sheet for baked cookies, package wrap for boxes to be mailed, or as an in-house container to collect recycleable materials.
Compost - once its useful life has been exhausted the best way to dispose the bag is in a compost bin as it will break down into nutrient rich soil.
Recycle - if composting is not an option, 'clean' bags can be recycled with your other paper and cardboard recycleables.

If you plan to just throw the bags out immediately after use, the National Resource Defense Council advises on choosing paper if you live on the east or west coast (to reduce waste ending up in the ocean and killing wildlife) and plastic if you live in the midwest (to reduce landfill mass).


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