Julia L F Goldstein

How Are You Changing the World?

One Bag, Two Bag, Green Bag, Blue Bag

I went grocery shopping at PCC Market (a Seattle-based co-op grocery chain) this morning and noticed blue plastic bags in the produce section. A closer look at the bags informed me that they are made from “100% Post Industrial Recycled Resin.” I supposed we are in the post-industrial age, so perhaps that is appropriate. Grammar issues aside, I understand that the bags are made from plastics that were used in some industrial process and have now been recycled into a form suitable for carrying fruits and vegetables.

After I’m done using the bags to transport my produce, I can then add them to my large plastic garbage bag hanging in the hall closet. Once that garbage bag is full of smaller bags, I will take it to my local grocery store and stuff it into the plastic bag recycling container. Where it goes next is somewhat of a mystery. The grocery stores can no longer ship it off to China since China put the brakes on accepting the world’s discards. Hopefully, the plastic bags will go to a facility that will recycle them into indoor-outdoor carpeting or plastic park benches.

When I was at PCC a few weeks ago, I saw a different type of bag in the produce section. The same hanging rods sported bags colored a pale green. I grabbed one hanging above the apples when I saw that it was labeled “100% Compostable and will biodegrade in 180 days.” (The capitalization on the label appeared exactly as I have typed it.)

These blue bags struck me as a fantastic idea! What better use of compostable bags than for storing food? The pale green color is distinctive, calling attention to something different about the bags. I loaded one bag full of apples and took it home.

The compostable bag worked just fine, which is why when I finished buying my groceries today I asked why the store no longer carried those bags. The clerk explained that not all customers found the bags as functional as I did. She told me that people complained of the bags tearing, scattering produce all over the floor. 

Perhaps I handled the bag more carefully than some people, suspecting that it wouldn’t be as strong as a conventional plastic bag. I compost at home and know that if I let the compost bin under my sink stay too many days without emptying it, the compostable liner may indeed start to disintegrate. I have sometimes needed to double-bag my compost to get it safely to the yard waste bin.

For mass adoption, a greener solution needs to work as well as the conventional product it is replacing. I hope that Cedar Grove, the company whose name appeared on the compostable bag from PCC, creates a new version of the produce bag that is just a bit thicker. If it is durable enough to safely transport fruits and vegetables—even the heaviest ones—from the store to home, people will use it. Then maybe someday, all grocery stores, including the national chains, will carry only compostable bags in their produce sections.