Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Submitted 7-24-08

‘Paper or plastic?’

What will it take to answer ‘neither, thank you’?

Sure, you can bring in some recycled bags, be they plastic or paper.  But there’s good reason why the word ‘recycling’ follows ‘reduce’ and reuse’ in the familiar ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra. While recycling is clearly better than not, know that less than 5% of the world’s plastic actually gets recycled? The rest of it, in part, forms a ‘plastic soup’ in the northern Pacific, fully twice the size of the continental US!

And recycling simply doesn’t come cheaply:  it still takes energy, and lots of it, to collect, transport and then remanufacture its reincarnation. (Surprisingly, it takes more energy to recycle a paper bag than to recycle a plastic bag.)

We needn’t go there….. just forget about recycling (after you take your existing, saved stockpile of plastic bags to either Haggen or Fred Meyer). Instead let’s study reuse.

So many of us already use reusable cloth bags but what about the plastic bags you still use for your fruits, vegetables and bulk items?  Any easy fix there?

You bet.  You can buy them (check out and click on ‘produce bags’) or make them yourself (use unbleached muslin; wash the material first with a cup of white vinegar to get the pesticides out of the material).

Know that if you use a cloth bag you can save about 6 plastic bags a week, which, over a lifetime, translates into saving 22,176 bags!

Given the existence of the plastic soup as well as the relative ease of changing your habits to delete the need for plastic bags, isn’t it time we ban plastic bags altogether and follow the lead of Bangladesh, Rwanda and San Francisco? Imagine the gall of a community other than ours spearheading that which is green!  It’s just not right.

Or, perhaps, we can go the way of China and Ireland who have banned free plastic bags (with the result of Ireland’s plastic bag consumption plummeting by 90%!)

Why doesn’t Whatcom County join Israel, Canada, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Taiwan, Singapore, Oakland and Boston who have also banned, or are moving toward banning, the plastic bag?

Actually, there is such a movement brewing and we need you to help fan this flame. Representative Maralyn Chase will re-introduce a state-wide no-plastic-bag bill for 2009 and it’s important that we support her efforts (; (360) 786-7880;  (D)  32nd Legislative District).  Although she’s a Washington state legislator she is not the legislator for our county.  But she is the legislator poised to reintroduce the bill.  Go Maralyn!

Consider, on a more local level, lobbying your grocer or your council member to lead the plastic bag to extinction. You can do this!  Create a new habit of carrying reusable grocery and produce bags, along with reusable containers for other bulk items, in your car or panier.

Help our community reach the point whereby our local answer to ‘paper or plastic?’ is ‘what era do you live in? The days of disposable or recycled bags are gone!’

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