Paper of plastic? Well, of course the answer is “neither”. Without going on an environmental bent, the amount of resources needed to make, then dispose of paper or plastic are both tiny in the singular and huge in total. Some interesting data is here on a site devoted to making bags that we can use over again. Their focus is the environment, but mine, as always, is on the sheer waste. 100 billion plastic shopping bags and 10 billion paper bags in the US every year.
So, in my tiny way, I followed the lead of my environmentally minded boss, David. Every day at work, a group of us walk to a nearby grocery store and get lunch. I almost always get a salad, which goes in a plastic or aluminum plate with a plastic cover, and I eat with a plastic fork and knife. Dressing goes in a little plastic container on the side. It’s all put in a convenient plastic bag to carry back to the office. Then one day, David decided there was no need to throw all of this stuff away, and he started rinsing his containers and utensils and bringing them back. At first, this seemed silly, then Theresa showed me this ReusableBags.com site and I was forced to admit that I was being needlessly wasteful. As a little bonus, the grocery store we go to gives a 5 cent discount for using your own (or reusing their) bags. The salad tastes as good, and I bought a bottle of salad dressing instead of using the little single-use containers. I can probably get 15 to 30 uses out of these things before throwing them away.
It’s a little step, but it can add up in several ways. The multiple of reuse is simple: I use 1/15th as many bags for this purpose as before. Then there’s leadership, and this step was David’s, not mine, and I followed. So whatever he saved was multiplied by 2. Then at least one other person in the group followed our lead. So now we use 1/45th as much as we did before. Yes, a little warm water and soap is used to wash and this is not costless. But I think in the end, the net is significantly positive.
This is a classic and simple kind of change that is almost entirely costless — it’s not harder to carry the bag and container back and forth and give it a quick rinse. Ok, maybe one minute a day extra.
Little changes add up.