Friday, April 20, 2007

A Paradigm Shift

Last Saturday, during the BagFest Event, I had the opportunity to participate in the discussion panel which consisted of representatives from SB Waste, Wal-Mart and Rocky-Mountain Recycling. It was interesting to listen to the responses to some of the questions being asked by the audience. My question to them (particularly to Rocky-Mountain) was, "Is recycling plastic bags reducing the use of natural resources?" The representative of Rocky-Mountain replied with a "yes", stating that (because the bags were being recycled) they reduced the need to use the materials to make new plastic bags. This is somewhat problematic because plastic bags do not necessarily become plastic bags again after being recycled. They become lawn furniture, wood composite and other misc. items. So, unless everyone is using re-usable bags, plastic bags are still being manufactured.

I have been recycling my plastic bags for years, largely because I knew there is an outlet for them. In essence, I had a false belief that I was not damaging the environment because I was recycling. The question that begs to be answered is, "Does recycling decrease the use of natural resources or does it only decrease the amount of waste going into landfills?" On one hand, recycling prevents "waste" and compilation of materials in landfills; on the other hand, recycling increases the demand for materials to be recycled. Hmmm...somewhat of an oxymoron.

Elizabeth Royte made a statement during her lecture on campus last Saturday that puts this issue into perspective. To prevent mis-quoting, I am going to paraphrase the statement. She was discussing "Zero Waste" and told us that in order to have zero waste, there needs to be a Paradigm Shift. I took that statement to mean that we need to change how we view our world, our environment, our behavior and how we live. Recycling isn't the only answer and it does not solve all of the problems. Reducing the use of natural resources combined with recycling and reusing should be viewed a collective process rather than as options from which to choose from.


Michelle Verges, Project Director said...

Bravo, Nancy, for writing an incredible post.

Thanks for synthesizing what you learned at BagFest in order to capture the "big picture" about this issue.

And very well said!


grimsaburger said...

A quick question--I'm a student at ND but have spent the last three months in Ireland using my totally awesome reusable bags from Tesco. I've fallen in love, I must say. I saw in the Tribune about how Meijer is introducing the same thing all the groceries do here--selling their own reusable bags for cheap. I wanted to know if Martin's has been approached about the same thing?
I'm ashamed to admit I put off buying reusable bags for years because I could only find ones that were around $5 a piece, and honestly never thought about it while at the grocery. Here, there are racks of reusable bags (1 and 2 euro each, depending on size and type) for sale at the end of checkout lanes. It's so much harder to NOT use reusable bags when they're right there.

Nancy W said...

Thank you Dr. Verges, it was my pleasure & I love to write (it's so much easier than statistics!)

Grimsaburger - Thanks for the comment. High-5 for using reusable bags! It sounds like you're having an awesome time in Irland.

To answer your question, I was told that Martin's offers a 3cent credit for reusable bags. I like the idea that Meijers has of selling reusable bags cheap. If everyone did that (and made them readily available) I would like to think that more people would use them. The next time I'm in Martin's, I'm going have to ask them! :)

Michelle Verges, Project Director said...

Hi Grimsaburger,

Funny you should ask about Martin's. I spoke with Cindy Kaplan, who's a Martin's representative, recently. According to Cindy, they may be introducing reusable bags at their stores in the near future. Unfortunately, she could not provide me with more details.

Yes, I can certainly sympathize with you; having been a poor graduate student for many years, I know that $5 bucks can go a long way, if necessary.

Moreover, because we tend to be forgetful (i.e., not remembering to bring reuseable bags for grocery shopping), I think it's a good marketing tactic for stores to sell bags at the checkout lanes.

As you can attest, this is not a novel idea. Let's hope that more U.S. stores will follow IKEA's example.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Nancy. Some of the issues you raised are the same issues I have been asking myself. As chapter 12 points out, we need to also look at the option of buying less stuff, which is something I'm committed to doing. Also, for me, I think it will be an ongoing process of evaluating my lifestyle and habits and assessing where I can make more environmentally conscious actions. I was also wondering why companies like the Little Tikes Corporation don't manufacture toys from those recycled plastic bags. If you can make plastic lawn furniture out of them, you can certainly make toys.

Also, to Grimsaburger, I have had no trouble using my cloth bags at Meijer and have received .05 per bag. I agree that it would be great if stores like Martin's offered their own reusable bags. The ones that Ikea are sells are really big and sell for I think .99. The thing too is that using reusable bags could be any reusable bags. I have some large mesh bags that I got from Old Navy for $6.00, but each bag holds the equivalent of probably 4 of my smaller bags. And thanks for joining our discussion.