Reusable Bags Instead of Plastic Bags

By: Lizdály Rosario Ortiz

It takes from 100 to 400 years to a plastic bag to decompose or degrade. That is precisely one of the reasons that should make all consumers change their mind about recycling those kind of bags and start using reusable bags. Looking for more facts about this environmental situation I went to various sources to determine what is that consumers pay more attention to.

Plastic disposable bags are made of polyethylene and when they start their final state of decomposition the plastic break down into little and toxic particles. People have been using them for around 40 years since their popularity began to rise in the 1970’s.

It is the tipping bagger job to put more bags on the rack when there are no more left.

Senator Norma Burgos Andujar, wrote a law project, 1251, that was approved by unanimity that said “a plastic bag is symbol of commodity used to carry merchandise and other products from supermarkets and other establishments to our house,” with these words she clearly states that the goal of the project is to eliminate and prohibit the use, fabrication and importation of plastic bags like other countries have decided to implement.

Ireland was the first country who approved by law a tax fee for plastic bag; the cost per bag was around $0.15. The purpose was to change the consumption behavior of consumers to a reducing and reusing behavior. Its name was the Plax Fee and was imposed by 2002. During the first year of the new fee the consumption of plastic bags decreased in a 90 percent and the revenue generated by the fee was directed to a green fund which take care of environmental situations around the country.

After Ireland many countries have made the decision to implement laws prohibiting the use of plastic bags. Some of the countries who followed Ireland’s example: Germany, Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Argentina, Chile, and recently Mexico.

What N. Burgos Andujar is waiting is for the governor to sign her law project to immediately convert it in law.

Countries who have implemented a fee, a law related to the prohibition of plastics bags agreed that costs have been reduced. Costs in energy, public health, landfills are the ones which have decreased resulting in saving a lot of money.

Here in Puerto Rico the most recent movement made by the government was the Law Number 38 of March 26, 2010. It established some amendments to the law named “Ley para la Reducción y el Reciclaje de Desperdicios Sólidos en Puerto Rico.” The new amendments ask for stores to put in their facilities visible recipients for customers who want to recycle their used bags.

Other important amendment is the fact that stores have to offer customers another option besides the plastic bags.

Each package comes full of 2,500 white plastic bags that has printed on them the company’s logo. Each package cost around 30 dollars making each bag cost around two cents.

Pueblo supermarket to the test.

To verify if government is really doing his part in this task I asked Pueblo’s store manager Nelson Hernández who in fact talked about what the store is doing to comply with the law. Pueblo maintain a visible recipient to collect bags that are going to be recycled later in front of the cashiers. The store promotes the recycling and promotes their own printed reusable bags all around the store and on the shoppers. They maintain a record according with the requisites established by law and established by the company. “When there is a reasonable quantity we call town council and they come and take the bags with them and sign our sheets” said store manager N. Hernández talking about the process of the recycling of the bags in the store.

Local companies are running the extra mile too. Their efforts consist on giving their customers options to reduce and substitute the usage of plastic bags and options to make the recycling process of the plastic easier.

Customers to the test.

Nicolás Díaz third year chemical engineering student and Jomar Martínez another third year industrial engineering student both from UPR-Mayagüez where asked a few questions about how it is their behavior when they go shopping. Both of them answered that they do not take reusable bags to stores when they go to buy stuff. One of them said that after he arrives to his house he throws away the plastic bags while the other student said that he used the plastics bags around his house for trash cans and carry other stuff.

Luz Ortiz was another customer interviewed; a working mother/housewife maintaining a household of three. She said that she went to shop and did not use reusable bags, and at her house she throws away the bags that are wet and stores the other ones to used them in any occasion. L. Ortiz thinks that “if the government establishes a law imposing a few over the plastic bags it would not resolve anything, because it will not help people who are not that great economically and people who do not care about the environmental situation will pay and still will not care.”

Companies, Kellogs in this case, are trying to persuade their loyal customer to substitute the use of plastic bags for reusable ones. Their strategy: attractive printed canvas bags.

Gabriella Rivera, another student from UPR-Río Piedras commented that she did not know about how much time did it take for the plastic bags to decompose. She also said that she has bought some reusable bags but she does not use them often because she forget to bring them with her to the store so she use the bags to carry books and other stuff.  Other observation about what she said is that she has seen people who use reusable bags when they go shopping but she insists that there are a lot more people that do not use them.

If local government decides to implement a tax or a fee over the consumption of plastic bags at stores first will have to create and share with the public an educational promotion for people to understand and learn what are the current problems with the uses of plastic bags, and which the consequences are. Currently there are other options of packing when you go shopping but it has not been efficiently promoted to the consumers and other public.

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