Sunday, March 11, 2007

Plastic bags: Boon or bane? (A Response)

An article in the Sunday paper (South Bend Tribune) featured some comments from my Statistics Professor, Michelle Verges. The article was great, it spread awareness of the upcoming event that our class is currently planning and excited for. It's cool to hear that the store Ikea will start charging for bags, and the article compares that to Aldi which I never even considered that as a means of conservation. I shop at Aldi regularly mostly for their good food at low prices, and just purchased my bags not thinking of it as an inconvenience at all but instead as something that comes with getting groceries at an affordable price. I have taken my bags back to Aldi and reused them several times, again not really thinking in terms of conservation but instead as saving money. I liked the fact that this article gears people to realize the savings in both waste and money! This was a point also mentioned by Dr. Verges, and it gets the wheels turning in peoples' mind to get them to realize that there are simple ways to recycle and being more conservative besides the traditional recycling plastic, cans, etc. The bag fest will be an awesome way to make people more aware and conscientious about the decisions they make on a daily basis, like making considerations for something as simple as plastic bag recycling.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. I saw the article this morning and thought it was great too. I was at IKEA yesterday and the charge for the plastic bags begins March 15th. I have to add too that the plastic reusable bags they are selling for 59 cents are an excellent buy. They're made out of heavy plastic (similar to what a plastic tarp would be made out of) and they're a lot bigger than the plastic grocery bags. We also drove by a landfill that you can see when you're driving on 94 just outside Chicago. The size of it was just unbelievably massive.

Michelle Verges, Project Director said...

LaTasha and Kim,

Thanks for your posts. I was pleasantly surprised to read about our project in the South Bend Tribune. And I thought the article did a good job relating our project to the larger, societal issue of consumption.

Ok, from reading the article, I can't help but think of statistics (yep, the stats geek in me is coming out!).

In particular, I'm thinking about the normal distribution. There's been a question I've been asking for some time now: Given the normal distribution (picture it!), what will it take for more people to conserve plastic bags?

I think the "outliers" are already conserving plastic bags. That is, they're bringing their cloth bags to the grocery store for reuse. In terms of statistics, what we're talking about are those rare, extreme cases. Think of the tails of the distribution in this case.

What I want to see, though, is a larger portion of the normal distribution accounted for--what will it take for the general public to use cloth bags instead of plastic bags? Think of the body of the distribution in this case.

So there's the connection between statistics and this issue! (More on this later, especially when we return from Spring Break and do the class pile-up!)

And yes, I'm a stats geek. But I guess you already knew that! ;0) M

Andrea L. said...


Michelle I really think IKEA’s proposal for charging 17 cents for plastic bags is a promising step forward to overall environmental awareness…and hopefully initiatives like these will jumpstart more states to become more eco-conscientious – leading to increasing proportions of consumers who are conserving and those who don’t recycle, will be the ones found deviating. I really do think it is reasonable to believe other states will see the utility in charging for bags or other recyclables, particularly when considering the cost of clean –up and for transportation to landfills. This particular discussion has lead me to contemplate why the United States is so far behind when it comes to recycling in general. For example, Sweden and Denmark currently have similiar fees on plastic bags and in South Africa thin plastic bags are banned! I wonder myself how and what will really make programs like these succeed in the US.

LaTasha said...

In response to Dr.Verges's comment, I think the distribution will appear more normal when people perceive conserving and being less wasteful as a feasible task. If there was a choice at the checkout counter, such as would you like to purchase a reusable cloth bag for $1 for example, the customer has a convenient alternative to using plastic bags. I think the convenience factor is the biggest barrier to recycling and bag conservation because people don't want to be inconvenienced. Dr. Verges has a photo on the blog showing her shopping using cloth bags, and she talks about how it becomes more convenient over time and I beleive that to be true. The distribution of plastic bag conservation will appear more normal in time, when people recognize the importance of it and that it is not an inconvenience. The bag fest and the SB Tribune article are great ways of making people more aware of their plastic bag consumption, and their overall footprint on all of us.

Michelle Verges, Project Director said...


Good point: Perceived convenience is key if more people are going to start conserving plastic bags.

I really like your suggestion about making cloth bags more accessible. First, we should have the option at the check-out lane. Brilliant suggestion! And second, those bags should be sold cheaply! That suggestion follows IKEA's philosophy quite well, I think.

And thanks for reiterating a point I made earlier: After reusing plastic bags (and later, cloth bags) for a while, I no longer perceived this to be an inconvenience. Now, it's second nature; I never leave home without them!

:0) M

Chander said...

Michelle Verges, LaTasha & Kim

I hit these posts as I am searching material for my 13 year old son's school project on Plastics: Boon or Bane. I fully agree with all of you that convenience of picking up plastic bag every time one shops or otherwise is a question of mind set. I still remember that my father used to carry a cloth bag, every time we used to go shopping for monthly quota of groceries or with jute bags for seasonal shopping of food grains. Another point to be noted that these cloth bags used to strong enough to be used many times over. I think life has come full circle and everyone must consider reusing plastic bags atleast.

Chander Shekhar
New Delhi, India