I just loved Mitch Trachtenberg's article about the big bag "tadoo" ("Bag by Bag," Oct. 11). Of course we all want to do the right and good thing, and he has ferreted out the information we need to make an intelligent decision, but at 0.3 percent of the "waste-stream," plastic bags are a minascule part of the problem.
Monopoly capitalism gallops on consuming the earth's resources, and capitalism is a growth-model economy. Its prosperity depends on growth, which requires ever-greater consumption (and attendant waste creation) of the earth's resources. Maybe someday we can be clever enough to devise a prosperous life which is not based on maximizing consumption. Dwelling endlessly on plastic bags is a distraction from seeking that more hopeful, useful goal.
Sonia Baur, MD, Garberville
Thanks to Mitch Trachtenberg for nudging us toward taking our own bags to the market. Unless you bake your own bread or buy high-end baked goods, it's hard to avoid acquiring a lot of plastic bread bags. But those bags are really strong, so why not shake out the crumbs and re-use them for our groceries? They will last for several years of shopping. They're perfect containers for loose pieces of fruit or vegetables, wet lettuce and bulk goods like grains or beans, holding like items together for convenience and speed at the checkout counter. I use them until they are completely worn out and then recycle them in the store's bin. Just be sure to blot out the old bar code completely with a solid black rectangle: Drawing a line through it is not enough, because the laser can pick up any visible code and you may find you've been charged for something you didn't purchase. (Also, shop by bicycle if you can. Putting fresh produce and bulk goods into light, flexible bread bags avoids wasteful packaging, and you can then put the smaller bags together in a big reusable bag and fit that into your backpack or bike basket.)
Orr Marshall, Eureka
Thank you for your article on reusable vs. "single use" plastic and paper bags at the grocery store. It is more than time for people to stop throwing away "single-use" bags. We'd like to add:
First, plastic bags and paper sacks are far from being "single use." The plastic ones can be used over and over for months before they wear out. When they won't carry groceries, they become litter bags. Eventually we recycle them. Paper bags also last a long time, if they don't get wet. There is no excuse to throw bags away after only one use. People in the past probably would have paid well for such useful containers.
Second, it's not a "terrifying task" to carry groceries home in a reusable bag. People have brought their own containers to market for centuries. We have been doing it almost since we moved here in 1966.
Third, you don't have to buy a cloth bag. Cardboard boxes work very well to carry groceries, especially heavy, tippy items like milk cartons.
Even if the environmental cost of making one plastic bag is less than that for one cloth bag, the serious costs of plastic bags come after they're thrown away, especially when they end up in the ocean. The cost of making the cloth bag is amortized over many years.
Using a cloth bag "173 times" would take only about a year and a half (at twice a week).
Any of these containers can be re-used for more than just groceries. Take them to Kmart, drugstores, etc. If we all did, we'd save a lot of wear and tear on the environment and landfills. And bread bags work well for fruits and vegetables. It's not "plastic vs. paper." It's reuse vs. throw away.
Virginia and Jim Waters, Trinidad