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Randy Moorman: Reusable bags limit climate impact
POSTED: 07/30/2013 01:00:00 AM MDT

Does anyone believe that creating waste is better for the environment? Apparently Ralph Shnelvar and Quentin McKenna do (Guest commentary, July 21). In their recent opinion piece, “Save the planet: Use a plastic bag” they argue using disposable, single-use plastic bags at the grocery store is a better environmental choice than using reusable ones.

That doesn’t add up. Reusing prevents any waste — and environmental impact in the first place. A person who brings their own reusable bag uses 93 percent fewer resources and produces 67 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions (Plastic Shopping Bags — Analysis of Levies and Environmental Impacts, Final Report, Environment Australia, 2002).

Contrary to Shnelvar and McKenna, the best reason to reuse and recycle is not because we face a shortage of landfill space. The real problems are the climate impacts resulting from resource use and depletion, and that what we call “waste” is actually valuable (and limited) natural resources desperately needed to support our growing global population of 7 billion humans and untold numbers of other species. We destroy these resources when we bury or burn them; we conserve our resources when we reuse and recycle.

Reducing waste and resource destruction by reusing is always best, environmentally. After reducing and reusing, recycling wins out over land-filling. Using Shnelvar and McKenna’s examples of glass and plastic, recycling saves 40 percent and 75 percent energy respectively (Environmental Benefits of Recycling, National Recycling Coalition, 2005).

Recycling also prevents pollution, creates 10 times more jobs than land-filling (Recycling Means Business, Institute for Local Self Reliance, 2005) and is a more economically sound practice (it costs money to landfill, recycling makes money).

The city of Boulder did the right thing by passing the bag fee ordinance to help us ditch the disposable habit. If we in Boulder County all choose to use reusable shopping bags instead of plastic or paper, we could save up to 20 million kWh of energy, enough to heat 900 homes a year. To learn more about the simple steps we can all take to be more sustainable, visit


Community Campaigns Manager, Eco-Cycle, Boulder