Clippings: Paper vs. plastic vs. human dignity

If you have being waiting for me to weigh in on the paper versus plastic debate (and who hasn’t) I am finally prepared to provide some guidance. Anyone over 40 remembers a time when there was no choice when you got to the end of the grocery store checkout line. Paper was the only option until 1977 when plastic bags first appeared. They quickly became the bag of choice because they didn’t destroy trees, plus they had handy little loops for carrying. But plastic bags are made of polyethylene, which is made from natural gas. And plastic doesn’t decompose for a long, long time. Paper decomposes quickly but it takes a lot of trees (and other resources like water and fossil fuel) to make a little paper.The result is a fairly balanced choice between two evils. It is an environmental toss-up. So what do we do? To me, the answer is obvious. Paper is the only way to go because there is no dignity in a plastic bag.Picture yourself grabbing a few items at Greg’s after work. You ask for paper and the crack staff expertly loads what looks to you like at least two bags worth of groceries into one neat package. You tuck the bag under your arm and you hold your head high as you walk to your car. You use your free hand to tip your hat to strangers and you smile as if carrying the Christmas goose to Tiny Tim’s house. Even after you get home the paper bag continues to deliver its simple joys as you gently set it down on the counter and it holds its geometric shape as you unload it. The bag even grants you the opportunity to peek inside and survey the items before pulling them out. It is all very dignified.Now, think about the plastic bag experience. What would fill one paper bag suddenly requires six or seven plastic bags. One bag for just your eggs. One bag for just your dishwasher detergent. You loop the bags around your available fingers and schlep them across the parking lot looking like a gorilla dragging its knuckles on the ground. When you get home things only get worse. As you heave the bags up onto the counter a two-liter bottle of soda slips out onto the floor because you failed to hook one of the dozen or more loops around your now aching fingers. And once the bags are on the counter it becomes both a wrestling match and a puzzle as you try to put your groceries away. The indignity of it all is too much.On top of all that the plastic bag is also associated with one of the most undignified acts that a human being can engage in (this is where things get a little indelicate so if you are a sensitive type, or a child, you may want to look away). People use plastic bags as pooper-scoopers (all right, children may find this discussion to be right up their alley). There is nothing more undignified than walking down the street with a dog leash in one hand and a plastic bag of fresh dog doo dangling from the other hand. Don’t get me wrong. Cleaning up after your dog is the respectful thing to do, but as a kid I don’t remember ever seeing anyone walk through my neighborhood with a bag full of doo. My buddy Donnie Andresen and I once put a bunch in an empty coffee can as a deterrent to local bully Nick O’Brien, but that’s it. And that proves that nobody was picking it up because there was plenty around for our can. So what did we do 32 years ago before the first pooper-scooper law in the nation was enacted in New York City and then caught on across the country? I guess we stepped in a lot of dog doo. But frankly, I would rather step in dog doo than watch another person walk down the street with a plastic bag of it in their hand. Or, the biggest indignity of all, carry some myself. I am serious. One day a few years ago I looked out my window and saw a man tugging on his dog’s leash as the dog was trying to take care of its business in my front lawn. The man was caught without a plastic bag so the dog was made to suffer. I tried to throw open the window and yell out, “Let him go! I don’t care!” And I really don’t. If your dog happens to go in my yard I do not want to see you lean over and pick it up with a plastic bag. I will yell at you.Clearly, plastic bags have got to go. And really, for environmental reasons, paper bags have got to go, too. Cloth reusable bags, more dignified than plastic, are the thoughtful choice, but they do not solve the pooper-scooper problem. If anyone has any ideas, let me know, because I need all the dignity I can get.

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Addison County Independent

58 Maple Street
Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100