A Letter from Anthony to Shanti

Hello Shanti –

You asked us to put on paper a few of the comments which we had for the group who viewed the film “Bag It!” last Thursday. My thoughts were focused on the plastic bags in which our San Francisco Chronicle is delivered each morning whenever we have rain, heavy fog, or either of the two are threatened. This summer we are routinely experiencing fog so thick that it condenses on everything, particularly trees, and our carrier routinely bags the Chronicle to protect it from the moisture.

I find this practice particularly distasteful and here’s why. The carrier’s route is very large. He delivers multiple hundreds of newspapers in the Kensington area, and probably in the neighboring communities of Berkeley, El Cerrito, Albany, and Richmond. Hundreds and hundreds of plastic bags go into the waste stream every day.  We are not talking about the relatively small number of bags that a single householder might discard after a shopping trip. We are talking about whole communities who daily participate in this single-use practice. The scale makes it an especially big problem. Kensington, for instance has 2,400 households. How many bags does it take to service Kensington every morning? How many wind up in the trash?

There are a number of messages printed on the bags. “THIS BAG IS RECYCLABLE” is one that I particularly dislike. “RECYCLABLE” is what I call a weasel word. Of course it’s recyclable. A responsible person will not throw it into the trash – maybe. But not all Chronicle readers take the trouble. Just because it’s “RECYCLABLE” and CAN be recycled by no means insures that it WILL be recycled. You can be certain that a considerable percentage of these bags go into the trash every day. Furthermore, not all curbside recyclers accept category 4 LDPE plastic. Even when recycled, it winds up as landfill.

What is needed is for the carrier to be using “COMPOSTABLE” bags which are bio-degradable. This relieves the consumer from the extra effort of recycling. Compostable bags are not harmful to the environment. I feel that the carrier, or the supervisor of distribution for the Chronicle, needs to be sent a message by Chronicle subscribers: EMBRACE COMPOSTABLES!  DON’T DROP ANY MORE ENVIRONMENTAL TIME BOMBS IN MY DRIVEWAY!

Another message on the bag declares “BRING IT BACK.  YOUR STORE RECYCLES PLASTIC BAGS. That’s great. This, no doubt, makes the consumer feel good. But my comment here is the same as my comment above. It takes a responsible consumer to save up his plastic bags and then remember to bring them to his local grocery store for disposal when he goes shopping. Only a certain percentage will do this.  The rest go into the trash, and a large percentage find their way to the trash as disposal bags for doggie poop. The newspaper bags are designed to fit newspapers – long and thin – and are not very practical for reuse. You can’t put bulkier items (like a load of fruits or vegetables) into one of them. But they are perfect as doggie bags. I walk in Tilden Park every day and see them routinely used by the dozens in this manner. Dog owners would be just as happy using compostable bags, if they had a regular source.

It also bothers me that the newspaper bags are now colored green. This makes me suspect that the distributor knows full well that the bags are a problem and that he is trying to make the consumer feel less guilty by coloring the bag green.  The hidden message is: “Green is Good”. It’s wonderful that we have so many green products now hitting the market. But traditional plastic bags colored green are not one of them. Lets have bags made of natural renewable biodegradable products, like corn husks. And let’s tell the Chronicle to stop polluting the environment with this garbage

-        Anthony Knight