Green Guru: Fabric or Plastic?

Photograph by Stephen Wilkes/ Gallery Stock

Green Guru: Fabric or Plastic?

The most eco-friendly options for grocery bags and trash can liners.

By Susan Cosier
Published: March-April 2012

If people who use fabric shopping bags end up buying plastic trash liners, are they still helping the environment?

Kira Freed, Tucson, AZ


Turns out, the environment comes out ahead in this scenario. "Research in Australia has estimated that even if consumers do have to purchase bin liners, the reduction in the number of single-use plastic shopping bags consumed will far outweigh the increase in the number of bin liners purchased," Helen Lewis, an adjunct professor with the Centre for Design at Australia's RMIT University, wrote in an email.  Lewis has worked for more than 20 years on reducing the environmental impacts of production and consumption.

Plastic shopping bags have become ubiquitous because they're strong, cheap, and impervious. The downside is that they're often used only once, aren't recycled, and are harmful to wildlife. "There have been several instances where a whale has washed up on the beach, and when they do a necropsy, they find more than one plastic bag," says Marieta Francis, executive director of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a group that does studies on the accumulation of plastic in the world's oceans. They also end up in the digestive systems of fish, birds, manatees, and turtles that mistake the plastic for jellyfish. In 2010 alone, plastic bags accounted for 10 percent of trash collected during the International Coastal Cleanup, a global volunteer effort. Small wonder that a number of cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, and Mexico City, and regions like the Northern Territory of Australia have either issued bans or taxes.

So bring your own bags to the grocery store. And instead of buying plastic liners for your trash can, try separating your food and liquid wastes for composting. 

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Susan Cosier

Susan Cosier is former senior editor at Audubon magazine. Follow her on Twitter @susancosier.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


Try not to throw everything

Try not to throw everything away in the trash bins. I have recycle-able containers for plastics, aluminum's cans, glass bottles, magazines, papers, card boards, and anything that is recycles. I used to scrap foods for the compost that I can use for the plants. Old and used clothes can be donated or make a quilt out of it. I would not buy any items that is not recycle able. You will be surprise how much left over in the garbage bag. And also, you'll be saving a lot of money buying the garbage bags.

trash can liners

The garbage service people here require us to use plastic bags to secure our trash. It seems like it would be worse for the environment, but containing trash in bags keeps it from blowing all over the place and from falling out of garbage trucks on the way to the dump.

I just don´t use plastic

I just don´t use plastic bags... They are killing our planet :(

Trash can liners

We are told to put our food scraps into our green waste bins. I hate the smell of rotting garbage, so I got composting bags to put the food scraps in. I put them in the freezer and then add them to the green wast when I put the cans out. This has worked real well, so I don't mind having to buy the composting bags. I live near fields of cattle and I have seen them trying to eat plastic grocery bags that have blown into their pastures; so land animals as well as ocean animals suffer from our use of plastic bags!

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