MODESTO — In honor of Earth Day, we join grocery clerks the world over in asking an eternal question: Paper or plastic?
The Modesto Bee invited readers to share their thoughts on a new bill that would phase out single-use plastic bags over three years.
We heard from dozens of people via email and Facebook. Some defended plastic, some supported paper, and still others suggested reusable bags made of cloth or other material.
"They should not outlaw plastic bags," wrote Wayne Shockey of Modesto. "They are extremely handy and allow the user to carry many more goods at one time. They are recycled more than realized if one stops and thinks how many times they reuse them."
Barbara Mota of Modesto sided with paper: "I reuse all paper bags and about half or less of the plastic. Big problem is the store does not fill the plastic bag properly (like an item or two so you end up with 20 bags) or the bag is so thin it tears before you can get the purchase into the house so it goes in the trash along with half the others."
Cloth is the choice of Erika Townsend of Modesto: "I no longer have to be bothered with 'tons' of plastic bags (which I would recycle at the local market) or throw the brown bags in the recycle can. Why can't people be responsible for themselves? Our Earth is in trouble, and when we use it up what then?"
Readers compared the ability of paper vs. plastic in carrying groceries. They talked about after-market uses, from picking up rabbit droppings to making crafts. They warned of damage to marine mammals from plastic.
Tera Wolf, Turlock: "At our home, (plastic bags) are definitely NOT single-use. We store the used bags in Ikea bag holders and then reuse the bags for everything from small wastebasket liners to bags in which to remove the 4-H bunny's waste. We have even made a crocheted basket from the bags."
Nancy Reeves, Modesto: "I am totally in favor of eliminating plastic bags in California stores and replacing the bags with paper bags or biodegradable bags due to the burden of landfills, landscapes and the many birds, fish and wildlife that are killed each year from ingesting the bags."
Dwight Peters, Turlock: "As a senior citizen I find the plastic bags to be much more consumer-friendly in the ease of use shopping. I can easily carry multiple bags whose handles are small and pliable. They are much stronger than paper, which easily tear, especially the handles when side-loaded. Plastic has better tensile and shear strength."
Linda Ridenour, Oakdale: "I always choose paper over plastic (if I haven't brought a bag of my own). My rationale has been that paper breaks down quickly in the landfill. If a paper bag is blown out of my car it will decompose quickly in the environment. If a plastic bag escapes my car the same way it will remain in the environment for years to come. Plastic pollutes our waterways, our land and can end up in animals' stomachs."
Michael Modest, Merced: "I always take my own bags (and often have to fight cashiers who, after starting with plastic bags before they see my reusable bags, try to throw the plastic bag into the trash rather than using it for the next customer, thus defeating the purpose)."
Eugene Williams, Oakdale: "I prefer plastic because I can carry multiple bags from the car into the house, thus saving multiple trips. When I try that with paper bags, the handles come off and I spill my groceries. If there is a glass jar/bottle involved, I have a mess not to mention the loss of the product."
Kimberly Stevenot, Modesto: "If you use plastic you are causing more damage to the environment. Have you heard about the plastic islands floating in the Pacific? Plastic isn't as biodegradable as paper. Plastic is a petroleum product. Think about that next time the price of gas goes up. Paper bags are sensible, reusable and can also be used as garbage bags. It's what we used before plastic bags. Paper is a renewable resource, unlike petroleum products."
Carolina Raymundo, Manteca: "I prefer plastic usually because I reuse them as garbage bags on all my cans and take one with me when I walk my dog, just in case."
Virginia Eskes, Ripon: "I prefer paper. It is more reusable for me and if it does become airborne it will eventually 'return to the Earth' more quickly than plastic. However, I use plastic to pick up garbage (since it holds liquids) and 'bag up' items to recycle."
Salvatore Salerno, Modesto: "European shoppers have long been bringing their own reusable canvas bags. Shoppers may choose paper bags, or at least pay a few cents for plastic ones. In the 21st century, we should all take small measures to become responsible stewards of our environment."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
ABOUT THE BILL
Purpose: Senate Bill 405 would bar grocery stores and pharmacies from providing single-use plastic bags for purchases as of Jan. 1, 2015. The ban would expand to convenience and liquor stores on July 1, 2016. The bill also says that if paper bags are used, they would have to include recycled content and customers would have to be charged the actual cost of providing the recycled paper bags.
Author: Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, Los Angeles County
Argument for: Plastic bags burden landfills, litter the landscape and kill whales and other aquatic life, according to Padilla's office. They also have a low recycling rate.
Argument against: The bags consume less energy and water in manufacturing than paper or cloth bags, says the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents plastic bag makers and recyclers.
Status: The bill was approved on a 5-3 vote Wednesday by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. Next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee.