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Plastic or Reusable?

I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about a proposal by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to charge six cents a bag for those flimsy throwaways you get at the drug store or supermarket. These bags are an environmental nuisance that have been banned or taxed all over the world, and in American cities like San Francisco, to encourage people to switch to carts or reusable bags, whether of heavier plastic or fabric. That’s what our ancestors did before the late 1970s, when disposable plastic made its first appearance at checkout stands and its convenience won consumers over.

But just remember, many reusable bags are made in China from a form of plastic that requires more energy to produce than a paper bag or the plastic used for the ubiquitous disposable bag. So, of course, these thicker bags only make sense if they are indeed used over and over — thus reducing the number of disposable plastic bags that would end up in landfills or hanging from a tree or clogging up a storm drain. If these sturdier bags stay behind forgotten in some closet, or the trunk of a car, they are just as bad as the single-use bags we’re trying to get rid of!

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