Few months ago I wrote a pair of articles on the...


November 10, 1990|By John Javna | John Javna,The EarthWorks Group

*TC A few months ago I wrote a pair of articles on the paper or plastic bag debate. My conclusion was that both have their pluses and minuses, but neither is as good for the environment as using a cloth bag. The columns brought an interesting response. I found out, for example, that environmentally sound, cloth shopping bags are a growing cottage industry in America -- and I now have a lifetime supply of sample bags. I also discovered that answering one question about bags brings up several others. For example, I received a number of letters like this one:

Q: If paper bags are not a good alternative to plastic, what do you put your unrecyclable trash in? I always used my paper grocery bags because I thought they broke down better in landfills. But now I don't know. Any suggestions? The trash collectors in my town don't want unbagged trash.

A: It's an interesting question, and one I'm sure bugs thousands of people every week. Let's answer it in a couple of stages. First of all, once you've got garbage to dispose of, there's no perfect way to unload it. So it's worthwhile doing whatever you can to cut down the amount of garbage you have to begin with. You already know you can do this by recycling, but have you heard of precycling?

This term was coined by the Berkeley, Calif., city government in 1989. It was part of a campaign to encourage residents to buy food that was either minimally packaged or packaged in recyclable materials. "We recycle items after we've bought them," the city explained. "We can precycle while we shop. What we buy has a direct relationship to what we throw away . . . so it's time we took a serious look at what we take home in the first place. Why not reduce waste by not buying something? This may be the easiest way to help save the Earth. Simply by making the correct buying choices -- by precycling -- we can prevent excessive and unsound materials from getting into our waste stream."

How can this fit into your life? Here are some rules:

* The key to precycling: Think ahead. Figure out how you're going to dispose of a product and its packaging before you buy it.

* Think of packaging as part of the product. You get what yopay for. If the packaging is designed to be thrown away immediately, all you're getting for your money is cleverly designed garbage.

* The National Recycling Coalition suggests: "In the store, you may ask, 'Is it nutritious?' 'Is it fattening?' Now ask, 'How is it packaged?'"

* Look for containers that can be reused or recycled, like aluminum and glass. Avoid "disposable" items that are made to be used once and thrown away, like some razors, lights and flashlights.

* Buy in bulk. Everything from beans to hardware is available without packaging.

I haven't really answered that question about garbage bags yethave I? I'll do that next week. In the meantime, give precycling a whirl.

% *The EarthWorks Group

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