In response to “Give us a choice: plastic or paper,” the letter in the April 3 Valley Record, while I agree with the argument that it is commendable to reuse plastic bags a second time, the problem is that they still end up in the landfill. This is a short postponement of a long-term and serious problem.
The polyethylene is not biodegradable, though it does break down into microscopic synthetic granules, if exposed to sunlight (otherwise, it can take up to hundreds of years). Scientist have not been successful at proving whether these granules ever decompose fully.
Their fear is that this buildup in marine and terrestrial environments and in the stomachs of wildlife, portends a bleak future compromised by plastic particles infiltrating every step in the food chain. An alternative? There are compostable bags derived from agricultural waste and formed into fully biodegradable faux plastic with a consistency similar to polyethylene bags. These would make a much better choice for garage bags and animal waste.
Another problem with bags, because the state of Washington uses over 2 billion bags a year, is that 94 percent don’t get re-used or recycled. The 6 percent that do are getting tangled in the recycling machinery and halt the entire facility. Some facilities have reported 20 to 30 percent of their labor costs are devoted to getting plastic bags out of machinery; thus 70 percent of Washington recyclers want these bags out of their systems.
This does not seems a “trivial problem”, nor have I found that any of the cities that have banned plastic bags report any loss of business revenue or jobs. Arguably, there are many jobs in alternative bag production and recycling, not to mention far less harm to our environment and, ultimately, the food we eat.