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Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

Posted March 18, 2009 3:36 PM by april05

An experience during a local trip last summer to a section meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in Schenectady, New York got me thinking that there must be a better way for my community – New York's Capital Region - to handle those ubiquitous plastic shopping bags so many of us use, once they've served their initial purpose.

Round, Round Get Around

As I was ending an after-work trip from Troy, my 2004 Honda Civic, which I maintain in good condition, was producing the signature plastic burning smell many of us are familiar with, apparently emanating from my engine compartment.

Photo at right and other photos courtesy Wikipedia. -->

Once in Schenectady, I pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store near to the Applebee's restaurant where our meeting was scheduled, to inspect the problem, assuming one of my engine compartment plastic components had come loose during the 40-minute trip from Troy.

Popping the hood and looking down from a top view, I could see no foreign object in the engine compartment. I then looked underneath the front of the car, and there before my eyes was the culprit - a beige shopping bag from one of the local supermarkets, connected like a barnacle to my exhaust system! The burning was all the more intense due to both the long ride from Troy and from the strong summer heat.

Ooh, That Smell!

Luckily I was able to dislodge the bag, and make my meeting on time, without any serious damage to my car and with only a small volume of carcinogens inhaled during the "while stuck" and "residual burn" time segments.

However, during the same two-month period of time last summer, I encountered another "libertine" shopping bag, on another local area highway – Interstate 787 - while car pooling in a colleague's similar-make Honda Civic. A rogue plastic bag once again lodged itself - to the bottom of my colleague's car this time. However, after traveling a half mile or so, it became un-stuck on its own accord without causing damage.

Murphy's Law operates in Upstate, New York

I've been driving the roads of New York's Capital Region since the late 1980's, and can't recall acquiring so many hitch-hiking plastic bags within such a short span of time.

As you know, the bags are designed to be very strong, to handle sharp edges from milk containers and the like. This same material property I benefit from as I haul my groceries into my home also makes them potentially very dangerous to a car's exhaust system, as the bag handles can hook - with a little "luck" - and pull with good strength.

Obviously, for the commuting public, not a good thing when someone's muffler falls onto the center of the highway – and I've seen many of these artifacts on the local roads over the years - never really knowing what the true cause of the muffler fall-off was – rust is always suspected, but maybe there are other factors, too?

A Modest Proposal?

So as we approach summer and peak driving season, and with St. Patrick's Day just passing yesterday, I'm thinking back to a BBC report from '02 that announced Ireland had faced this problem head on:

According to a 2002 BBC News web site article, a 0.15 Euro - approximately 33-cents in U.S. currency - tax was levied on Irish shoppers starting March 4th, 2002, for each bag used. The person leading this effort was Irish Environmental Minister Noel Dempsey, and the tax was part of a larger push to "reduce the visibility of plastic waste". He said the new tax was designed to "dramatically reduce the nuisance" resulting from "our insatiable use of free plastic bags".

Seven years later, is the Emerald Isle any greener?

To follow-up on Ireland's success or failure, I fast-forwarded to an article posted last month -

According to blogger Jennifer Lee at the New York Times, just a few weeks after Ireland imposed its 33-cent tax on plastic bags, usage decreased by 94%. Not bad, if that statistic held over time.

Ms. Lee's article also described a current push in New York City by the mayor to introduce a 5-cent tax on plastic bags. This is happening while an already voter-approved, state-wide effort is occurring across the New York State border – half an hour or so driving from Troy – over in Massachusetts.

So how to solve the overpopulation problem of these bags on Capital Region highways, green-spaces, and many other places they shouldn't be? Should they be boiled in a pot and eaten to solve the problem, as Jonathan Swift might suggest?

Time will tell, but it seems likely that the tide of floating plastic bags sailing along New York's roadways may soon be coming to ebb.

- Larry Kelley

Resources:

2002: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1853305.stm

2009: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/02/taxing-plastic-bags-from-pennies-here-to-millions-there/

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#1

Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/18/2009 5:17 PM

I agree wholeheartedly that the abuse of grocery bags has gone too far. While the convenience is well-intentioned, the inability to properly recycle these bags can be devastating. Getting them stuck in a car is only one of many potential problems.

Some big grocery stores, like Price Chopper and Walmart, are adding the option of a reusable bag. I think that these are good strides in the right direction. I purchased one of these woven propylene (100% post-consumer recycled product) to use for groceries. What used to take 3 plastic bags can all fit comfortably inside one of these robust and recycled products. Price chopper also credits your shopping trip 3 cents for every reusable bag you use. While it may not be as effective as charging per plastic bag, it is motivation nonetheless. These bags do cost about $1, but isn't it worth it to keep harmful plastic bags out of harms way?

Charging for plastic bags seems like a good idea. Judging from the large percentage of people who decreased the usage of plastic bags. Reusable bags have given me the best bang for my buck and makes me feel like I am contributing positively to the environment (or not contributing negatively).

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#3
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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/19/2009 9:37 AM

GA, Jaxy.

I also try to bring reusable bags when grocery shopping, but I am usually too forgetful

However, I do try to minimize plastic bags that I use throughout the grocery store. I'm not sure if it's just an annoyance that I picked-up while working in grocery for 6 years, but I don't understand why people need to put every single vegetable, fruit, etc. in a plastic bag.

Plastic produce-type bags are the ones that I have the biggest problem with. Unlike plastic shopping bags, they can't be reused for as many things and aren't always necessary. When buying multiple or messy fruits/veggies, sure it's acceptable to keep them all together. But, many times I see people putting one item (e.g. one cucumber or a pre-packaged plastic container of tomatoes) in a plastic bag.

Most people will later wash the fruit/veggie before eating it, so why the need for more plastic? I've seen people take extra plastic bags from the produce department for other items in the store as well. They'll even put pre-packaged (non-messy) meats, deli products, and even sometimes dairy and pre-packaged bakery items in extra bags.

I think that people are concerned about their stuff getting "dirty" from being in the cart. But really? A gallon of milk isn't going to be any cleaner if it's in a plastic produce bag. It just seems unnecessarily wasteful to me.

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#2

Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/19/2009 12:06 AM

Here in Japan they also started to do that although a bag only costs 5 yen, but it helps. the Japanese have some kind of Packing fetish as they like to "over-pack" things. E.g. A CD that has 3 layers of plastic foil covering before you reach the CD PACKAGE! or a bag of candy has every single candy wrapped again (with chocolate i can understand that, they do this also with food items.

In my childhood i remember jute bags maybe we should re-introduce those as shopping bags

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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/19/2009 10:06 AM

Gosh! a whole list of goodie goodie solutions. Who would have thought that a load of people who only go to the grocery store once a month would come up with yet another set of unworkable solutions. I go to the grocery store once a week and usually end up with 20 bags. Yes dear hearts 20 bags, teenage boys eat. lets see 33 cents per bag times 20 bags means the grocery bill goes up $6.60. That is $6.60 that I do not have so now those teenage boys are hungry. Hungry teenage boys will steal to eat so now you have roving gangs of hungry teenage boys. That is kind of a high societal price to keep you from having to pull your collective heads out of your asses and not run over plastic bags...

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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/19/2009 10:37 AM

You seem to be very single minded. The point of charging for plastic bags is so that people find ALTERNATIVES to using plastic bags that are most often used once and discarded. If you use reusable bags (which can usually carry much more weight than plastic bags), you will only pay a one-time fee.

I think you are being ridiculous in saying that there will be 'roving gangs of hungry teenage boys'. Perhaps if those teenaged boys helped you carry things to the car, you wouldn't have to have so many bags. I don't think you can guarantee that all 80 of the grocery bags you use a month end up 'safely' tucked away in a landfill. They are like tumbleweeds in the wind and end up on ditches in the side of the road and on the road themselves. I can remember picking up random bags that end up on my lawn and thinking 'there isn't a walmart for miles'. These plastic bags take a loooooong time to decompose and tend to end up in a less than desireable place, like your car.

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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/19/2009 11:22 AM

I agree wholeheartedly with everything Jaxy mentioned above. You could pack more groceries in a reusable bag than in a plastic bag - which would mean less bags of groceries to carry in the house.

By claiming that we're giving "goode goodie solutions" signals to me that you do not understand the problem. Rather you seem to be living in a ME-centric world focused on YOUR life, YOUR teenagers, etc. But in case you didn't know, the over-abundance of plastic bags is a real problem.

For example, there is a floating trash pile (cleverly dubbed the "Eastern / Pacific garbage patch") that is twice the size of Texas, floating in the Pacific Ocean. The majority of his trash pile is composed of disguarded plastic.

Read about it here, here, or here.

Hopefully after some consideration you'll see that your attitude is very small-minded and selfish. After all, most people learn that the world doesn't revolve around them when they're children. Good luck to you, Guest.

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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

12/24/2020 6:13 PM

think you are being ridiculous in saying that there will be 'roving gangs of hungry teenage boys'. Perhaps if those teenaged boys helped you carry things to the car, you wouldn't have to have so many bags. I don't think you can guarantee that all 80 of the grocery bags you use a month end up 'safely' tucked away in a landfill. They are like tumbleweeds in the wind and end up on ditches in the side of the road and on the road themselves. I can remember picking up random bags that end up on my lawn and thinking 'there isn't a walmart for miles'. These plastic bags take a loooooong time to decompose and tend to end up in a less than desireable place, like your car.

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#7

Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/19/2009 1:42 PM

I agree - I often see plastic bags tangled in the branches of trees on my way to work. They're everywhere! And while they can be re-used to some extent, I don't see myself using the 10-20 they grocery store sends me home with each trip. I can easily fit my groceries into 2-5 reusable bags instead.

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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/21/2009 8:29 PM

Travels in 3rd world countries (and even here in thea US) has led me to believe that the only way we can reduce the trashing of these grocery bags is by finding a profitable use for the discarded plastic. Profitable to the extent that people will either save and recycle them (like Aluminum cans) or be charged a hefty fee for their use. If the price for the bags were 25 cents apiece (refundable on return) you can bet they wouldnt be littering the landscape.

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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/20/2009 4:21 AM

In the UK, the majority of supermarket's don't charge for plastic bags. Here's a thought - Wholescale smoking bans were introduced without much discussion, largely on the basis of health. If they can enact such legislation, why not immediately ban plastic bags being sold or used in supermarkets ?

OK, you might get people selling them outside the shop, but most people get their goods packed inside it. There's no reason why the supermarkets couldn't sell reusable string bags (or similar), and they'd compete to offer the best design/cost. I'll go out on a limb here - the question has probably been considered by the government, but the major retailers have argued that it would slow down check-out times/'customer processing time'. That argument is untested nonsense, but the retailers don't want to take a chance or be the first to risk it. Government ministers like to retire into nice directorship jobs, and to say that the retail lobby were close to the government would be like saying my parents might have gone beyond first base together. Here is one example.

Conventional light bulbs are currently being phased out. There's no reason why the government couldn't give the supermarket chains and customers a similar deadline. 6 months would be plenty.

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#9

Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/20/2009 3:04 PM

Doesn't anyone take their plastic grocery bags back to the store and put them in the bag recycling bins? We take ours back any time we make a bottle-return run.

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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

03/21/2009 4:40 AM

I use 'em as bin liners in the kitchen, but generally I try to remember to keep reusable bags in the car, along with all the other 'useful' stuff.

Del

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Re: Fake, Plastic Shopping Bags of Ireland

07/23/2009 4:15 PM

Urban Tumbleweed.

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