Paper beats plastic?

When we watched the TEDtalk by Leyla Acaroglu about environmental impacts and consumption behavior, I had an ‘inside-laugh’ moment because it turned my thought process upside down. While, yes, it does seem much more eco-friendly to choose brown paper bags at the grocery store over plastic bags, we don’t think about the aftermath of that paper bag. I’ve gone grocery shopping countless times, choosing paper bags whenever possible, and what do I do with them afterwards? I bunch them up and stuff them in the trash, or on occasion, make my way to recycle them properly. Leyla spoke about how these paper bags (bio)degrade in a landfill versus in a natural environment. Once disposed of in a landfill, the biodegrading of a paper bag relinquishes all of its naturally decomposing properties, emitting higher amounts of CO2 and worse, methane. Not only does this apply to paper bags, but food is a major contributor. The more food we buy, the more likely we are to forget about what we buy and it turns to waste, just like those soggy lettuces.When we waste food, we’re not only wasting that specific item, but we have just wasted the entire process it took to grow that one food item. If consumer behavior were altered just slightly to think about how much they will really eat when grocery shopping, we could cut back on this part of the issue. Personally, I’ve never seen an infographic or anything of that nature when grocery shopping – any little reminder to kindly say ” Will you be eating all of this? ” I think it would throw a lot of consumers off guard and some may feel that it sounds intrusive, but I think it could have a definite impact. The same goes for the paper bag users – maybe a more insightful infographic on the bag that explains the epidemic of paper bags being disposed of in landfills?

Designing local is faced with challenges such as competition both near and far, higher prices, and resource availability to name a few. I know that anytime I’ve purchased or shopped local products, they usually come with a higher price point. Many consumers are discouraged when they see a higher price tag and turn to the cheaper mass-produced product. I think that creating awareness about the time and effort that goes into designing and producing locally will help consumers to have a stronger connection to the products they buy. If they are better informed about a local product, the less likely they will be to waste it – which ties back to my previous topic. Understanding the process of creating a product, whether it be food, paper bags, or clothing, and the implications of improperly disposing of a product will help alter consumer behavior. I think if we focus more on processes that take place before and after that “paper bag” and not so much on the glorification of how sustainable a paper bag can be will get the paradigm shift rolling.

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