Grit Blogs > Gardening with Vickie

Grocery Bags: Paper or Plastic?

A photo of Vickie MorganI was composting corn husks this last week when I realized that I had been putting a lot of green in my compost and no brown. To compost you need 1 part nitrogen which is the brown (this includes pine cones, leaves, and weeds) to 15 to 30 parts carbon which is the green (this includes vegetable peelings, but no meat or grease). Well, we don’t have a pine tree, and thank goodness the leaves are still on the trees. It was then I remembered you could use newspapers. So I shredded up some of my newspapers and got the compost going again.

Then someone told me I could have used the paper bags I get out of the store for the brown in my compost. Well, I realized I didn’t have any paper bags, I always get plastic.

There are three different stores we frequent, depending, of course, on which offers the best deals on groceries that week. There is the store we go to once a month that you bag your own and you get a good deal. When we go there, I make sure I bring my recyclable bags.

Reusable bags ready to go to the store with Vickie

The best store we go to I think is the one who just changed to bags that are 100 percent biodegradable. The cashier was a little worried the first time I got them and said they could biodegrade as I went to the car. It didn’t quite happen, but I felt good about it anyway.

Now the other they just stick your groceries in a plastic bag and you’re done. That’s the store we are going to this morning.

You know I always make myself feel better because we reuse the plastic bags so much – one for the trash in the bathroom, and of course the kitty litter and dog waste. So we’re reusing right? There is reduce, reuse, and recycle. Aha ... but oldest daughter informed me, the plastic bags are still floating over farmlands, and causing a lot of pollution.

Then, you have to think of paper bags whose former life was a tree, and the amount of machinery that was used to fell those trees. It takes a lot of natural resources to make a paper bag. Of course they decompose more rapidly than plastic – but at what expense? The debate goes on and on.

So what to do? I’m going to be brave, go to that plastic bag store this morning, with my recyclable bags and hand them to the cashier before she starts shoving the food in the plastic bags. Also, I’m going to leave bags in both cars so that when I have to stop by for just a few things they will be there for me to use. It shouldn’t be too hard to do but, as with every lifestyle change, it will take some getting used to.

10/5/2009 11:40:30 AM

Dave, Yes, your right me and my Mom was just talking about milk and pop coming in glass --seemed to taste better. We also talked about how we burned our trash in the backyard. Not a good idea now the fire truck might come by and then you will be fined. I do compost that does get rid of a lot of kitchen scraps and thankfully our city has curbside recycling -not a lot of cities do. But then I came home today to receive a book I had ordered very small book enclosed in too big a box wrapped in too much plastic then tied with plastic tape around it. So wasteful. It's really tough but we got to try and do what we can. thanks for your insight vickie

nebraska dave
10/5/2009 9:38:46 AM

Vickie, I can still remember the first time I heard the phrase “Paper or plastic”. My response was, “I’m paying with cash.” The quizzical look on the cashier’s face was classic. In my mind I thought she was asking if I was paying with paper cash or plastic credit. I’m a little slow at times. I’m kind of set in my ways and haven’t really given thought to the green thing but I’m hearing more about it and it makes a lot of sense to go more with the biodegradable. I’m not sure about how that will work for me as I too would never be able to remember to put the bags in the car. The best I do right now is to visit Sam’s club which gives you no option other than back in the shopping cart. So all I have to do then is chuck the stuff in the back of my truck and drive away. If I’m lucky I might find an old diaper box by the cash register to hold the booty until I get home but most of the time it just rattles around in the back of my truck. As I reflect back on childhood days, the milk came in returnable glass bottles; same for the soda pop; and the infamous burn barrel resided in every back yard and burned all the paper. It seems that burning is quite out of fashion especially in the city where I live. We hardly had any trash to set out by the curb. It truly is amazing how much trash is generated in a single day just in my town. Huge land fills have trucks lined up to dump on a daily basis. Fast food, and I include 90% of the frozen section of the grocery store, is the biggest culprit of trash. Plastic is nothing more than petroleum consumption but it is so integrated into our American way of life. Practically everything we buy is packaged in that wretched plastic container that can only be opened by much cursing and gnashing of teeth. Good blog, Vickie, that makes me think more on a global view.

10/4/2009 6:27:23 PM

Cindy, I'm having trouble remembering to put my bags back in my car too It takes time to change old ways- I guess in order to do our part we just have to keep trying. I Like your suggestion about old plastic bags in the car - I heard about that floating trash and I'm going to look at your link now. Some very good information. thanks vickie

cindy murphy
10/4/2009 11:24:14 AM

Hi, Vickie. I take canvas bags to the grocery store, and my biggest problem is remembering to put them back in the car after I've finished putting away the groceries, or when I use them for trips to the library and such. Sometimes I get as far as setting them by the front door, so I practically have to trip over them on my way out....and still I forget them. When this happens, I reuse the plastic bags from the grocery....over and over again. When they start to fall apart, I just double bag them and use them again until they're practically in shreds. I used to get odd looks from the cashier dumping a pile of used bags on the conveyor thingy, but now they're kinda accustomed to it. And though it doesn't prevent them from eventually making their way to the landfill, I'm contributing less of my share of trash than I would have if I'd gotten new bags. I always keep a stash of them in the car just in case; for whatever reason they make it back to the vehicle when the canvas ones don't - probably because I use the canvas ones for so many other things. Little by little we've all got to do our part. Kind of scary when you think what the alternative that recent discovery of a 1,700 mile-long trash island made up of discarded plastics floating out in the Pacific. Here's a link to the article about the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as they're calling the floating trash:

10/1/2009 10:15:42 PM

Marie, That is so clever. I'll have to give that a try. vickie

marie devine_1
10/1/2009 6:39:30 PM

I have made some bags for various things using women's tank tops or miniskirts. I just sow up the bottom on the tank tops. With the miniskirts or jean tops, I just add a rope or other shoulder strap somethimes made out of the rest of the piece. People think it is so clever. I just know it was easy.