Here at Baylor, we are focused on how to be more environmentally friendly. In light of Earth Day, we wanted to pass along some of their great advice. Feel free to leave your tips in the comments below.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2018, all of our plastic bottles, bags, sacks, wraps and other packaging made up 14.5 million tons of waste. Roughly 5 trillion plastic bags are manufactured worldwide and in the US alone we throw away 100 billion bags annually—equal to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of crude oil!
Yet the evolution of plastic bags into the preferred choice for most supermarket shoppers is a great curiosity: They accommodate relatively few items; pile up at home faster than new ideas can be invented for them; they have a tendency to blow away, making them a prevalent source of litter; and they even play a role in climate change.
These reasons alone would prompt most people to try something else, and about 20 percent of shoppers do ask for paper, but paper and plastic both have environmental impacts that provide compelling reasons to abstain from using either.
Plastic, an environmental pariah
Plastic bags are made from non-renewable petroleum resources and require the use of toxic chemicals during production and processing. Plastics production produces 14 percent of toxic air emissions in the United States, and each plant emits an average of 300 to 500 gallons of contaminated waste water per minute.
As plastic bags move through their life cycle, they continue to menace the environment. Very few facilities collect and recycle plastic bags, and they end up primarily as litter or landfill material.
Paper isn’t perfect,either
Paper has its problems, too: Half of the trees cut down in America each year go to provide raw materials for American paper and pulp mills. Pulp and paper mills are also among the worst polluters of air, water and land of any manufacturing industry in the country.
Plastic and paper bags are not only less desirable from an environmental standpoint—they are also functionally inferior to stronger reusable carriers. The smart and resource-wise choice is to use durable cloth carriers, preferably ones made from organically grown fibers, for everyday shopping.
Significant environmental harm and a portion of our waste stream would disappear if everyone started using cloth bags in place of paper or plastic. This is an easy and practical daily choice, and the hardest part is remembering to take cloth bags with you to the store.
- Use durable fabric bags and take them on all your shopping trips, not just to grocery stores. Be sure to keep a set in your vehicle at all times.
- When buying plastic containers, try to buy those that are labeled with a 1 or 2 within the recycling symbol; these two types of plastic are widely recycled.
- Put larger produce items (such as oranges and peppers) directly into the grocery cart instead of using the small plastic bags provided.
- Wash out soiled plastic food storage bags and containers to get a few more uses out of them. Turn them inside-out and slip your hands into them, then simply wash your hands.
- Purchasing staples in bulk costs less per pound and reduces the amount you pay for all of the packaging
This post was authored by Ira Nicodemus, senior business development manager with Performance Services in Dallas and a member of the Energy Champions team at Baylor Health Care System.
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