Paper or Plastic?

Tarsi Dunlop of the Middlebury Roosevelt Institution

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Checking out at the grocery store often puts me in a moral dilemma: paper bags may involve the destruction of numerous trees, but they also take up less space in a landfill compared to plastic. Plastic bags stick around for thousands of years. So, which is better? Ideally, it is actually choice number three: reusable cloth bags. What sort of encouragement might help people remember to bring a few bags with them when they shop? One answer, summarized by Olivia Katz, a Middlebury College graduate, is to instate a small tax on every paper bag used.

This idea is remarkably straightforward. Each bag would have a certain tax on it, small enough so that a trip to the store without one’s own bags would yield no more than a dollar or so in tax. The proceeds would go towards environmental non-profits for research or to other eco-friendly efforts. This idea, tested in places such as San Francisco and the Netherlands, actually has resulted in a notable drop in the number of people using plastic and paper bags.

While we may not solve the energy crisis over night, a small tax at our food stores could serve as a handy little reminder to each shopper— bring your own cloth bag.

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