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 Post subject: Here's a question . . .
PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 6:31 am 

Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 1:04 pm
Posts: 10
Location: the Left Coast
How come I rarely come across posts that have to do with the ecology in the personal finance blogs I read? I mean they talk about growing their own food, and spending less on doodads, but none of them mention that this is a way to save the planet. This has been on my mind since watching Bill Maher's "New Rules" rant on plastic shopping bags last Friday. Okay, it's actually been there a bit longer but his take on it reminded me that we have come along way since that first Earth Day and it hasn't turned into that pleasant of a journey. My partner and I run a small farmer's market in Carlsbad, California. We have about 25 venders on any market day and they all use PLASTIC bags for their customers. Why? Because of the cost. An order of 50,000 large tee shirt bags costs 3.7 cents per bag. An order of 250 brown paper bags costs 42 cents per bag. The cost of using paper is prohibitively high.

And yet,the use of plastic is killing us. The bees that pollinate the plants that provide the food that our farmers sell are dying. In the Graduate, yes the movie, Ben is dumbfounded and we are amused when one of his Dad's friend corrals him so he can share the secret of the future. "Plastic" he whispers in Ben's ear.

We can't afford to use paper. 50,000 paper bags would cost $21,000. 50,000 costs $1500. And yet,how can we afford not too?


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 6:56 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 3:05 pm
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Here in Québec the government was considering levying a tax on plastic shopping bags, or else banning them. They're not recyclable, use up resources, and cause a mess. In some European countries you have to pay for your bags at the counter, which has cut way down on the consumption of plastic bags.

Even though Québec's proposal didn't come to anything, I've seen a huge increase in the number of people here carrying their own cloth shopping bags or baskets. Many of the supermarkets here in town give you a 5-cent discount if you bring your own bag. Mountain Equipment Co-op makes a donation to environmental causes for every customer who doesn't ask for a bag.

We switched to cloth bags a few years ago. In the beginning it was a pain, as we'd frequently forget to bring them into the store or the market. But now we're in the habit, plus we each have a "filet" (a mesh bag that easily fits into a coat pocket but can hold 20 pounds of groceries), so we're rarely without a bag. On the rare occasions when we forget or don't have enough bags for our groceries and have to use a plastic one, we use that plastic bag for our garbage or for storing veggies in the freezer.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:06 am 

Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2007 7:03 am
Posts: 62
Location: Tampa, FL, USA
While this could get dangerously close to a political discussion, I'll take a shot from my own perspective.

Personal finance and environmentalism don't always have to clash, but they often do. Doing the "right thing" from the planet's perspective often means choosing the more expensive alternative. We use the cheaper, less environmental option precisely because it is cheaper. As to the plastic/paper debate, there are a few things going on there. First, 20 years ago, we were all told to switch from paper to plastic because the paper was causing everyone to cut down trees. Now, everyone is being told to switch back because the plastic causes us to use fossil fuels. That message will take time to propagate.

Additionally, since we all switched to plastic, we discovered the other benefits. From the store's perspective, they're cheaper, they take less storage space, etc. But from the consumer's perspective, we discovered that they can carry a lot more, and they don't rip out from the groceries like paper used to. So, to switch back to paper requires people to relearn something, pay more money and put up with a product that doesn't work as well for it's intended use. That's a tough sell from a personal finance/consumer perspective.

Also, I think the other problem is that environmentalism is 'marketed' (for lack of a better term) from the 'save the planet' perspective. This implies sacrifice. And while that sacrifice might be a worthy goal, many who struggle with their finances feel that there are others more financially equipped to make the sacrifice.

Personally, I think people would get better results talking about what you can save by being environmentally conscious. Tell them what they will save each month by switching to CFLs. Tell them what they can save per load by using a clothesline instead of a dryer. Create hybrid cars that don't cost so much more than standard cars, that you'll never get the savings back in reduced gas expenditures. (Not to mention the environmental problems that could be created by the batteries in the hybrids.)

I'm trying very consciously to reduce my use of fossil fuels, but my motivator is reduced energy costs primarily. Saving the planet in that case is just a perk.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:26 am 
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Location: Portland, Oregon
Quote:
How come I rarely come across posts that have to do with the ecology in the personal finance blogs I read?


I think that most pfbloggers — myself included — try to walk a fine line where they're not stirring the pot. I've made a huge effort to not post anything religious or political in nature. Now, I understand that ecology isn't necessarily political, and that its importance may go beyond one man's desire not to rile up his readers (and that it may even be best for the readers to get riled up), but the subject descends into the political quickly.

I am not opposed to hosting guest articles on almost any subject, though. I've hosted articles from authors whose religious viewpoints differed from mine. I've hosted articles from authors whose political viewpoints differed from mine. But for myself, I try to keep politics and religion out of my writing here. (I rant and rave plenty at my personal site, if people really want to experience it.)

That said, rhbee, I would be happy to post a guest entry from you on this subject, if you're interested in writing one.

Regarding your actual question: I don't think many people think about long-term costs when it comes to something like the sort of bag they use. Kris and I always ask for paper at the grocery store, but they still send us home with plastic half the time. They're too set in their routine. The employees don't think of anything beyond what is convenient for them. Nor do the consumers. The store simply thinks of short-term costs.

As far as manufacturing, I understand the implications of plastics with regard to a possible decline in oil production, but what sorts of wastes occur in the manufacturing process. I work in the paper industry (corrugated cardboard), and am not proud that our raw material comes from suppliers who are heavy polluters. Making paper dumps harmful chemicals into the environment. Is this also the case with making plastic bags? (I really don't know.)

Quote:
Personal finance and environmentalism don't always have to clash, but they often do.


This is an excellent point, Croz, and worthy of a blog entry. Your example of CFLs is perfect. Make it a win-win thing, and people will buy into it.

Seriously -- if any of you are interested in producing a guest entry on this subject, drop me a line.


Last edited by jdroth on Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:28 am 

Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 1:04 pm
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Location: the Left Coast
I knew this was the right place to bring this up. And, I do agree with Croz that this borders dangerously close to being a political topic but I still wanted to know what people actually thought about it. And Dan has given me an idea right away that I hadn't thought of and that is the use of incentives to make the change back to paper more amenable. Though an experience I had in a grocery store yesterday showed me how far we would have to go to make this shift work. I had asked for paper instead of plastic but the bagger was in a hurry and young so he just did it for one bag while leaving the other bag still plastic. When I emptied that one into the paper bag and then handed the plastic one back, the bagger immediately wadded it up and through into the trash.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:47 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 3:05 pm
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Honestly I don't think a switch back to paper is what you want. As J.D. noted, paper (even recycled paper, which some bags are made from now) uses energy and resources too.

The best approach is simply to bring your own bag. I know it sounds hard, and it feels like a pain in the beginning, but you quickly get used to it. We have about six or seven cloth bags. When we go to the supermarket, we bring them with us, put them in the shopping cart, and hand them to the bagger at the cash register. We throw the bags into the laundry every few weeks when they start looking dirty. I keep some bags in the car so we have them handy for impulse purchases as well, and I keep an extra bag in my daypack. It quickly becomes a habit to use your own bags.

And using incentives is a good way to encourage this. Give your customers a nickel for every bag they bring. Lots of coffee shops do this now for people who use their own mugs as well. Whenever I bring my own travel mug to my local coffee shop instead of using a disposable cup, they give me a 5 cent discount.

Reusing is better than recycling. We've been using our cloth bags for a few years now and have avoided the use of many hundreds of plastic OR paper bags. Cloth bags use energy and resources to make them too, of course, but the longer you use them, the lower the per-use cost gets in environmental terms.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 9:49 am 

Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2007 1:04 pm
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Location: the Left Coast
The responses you've given have been very gratifying because they pointed me in a direction that will actually provide a solution. I intend to find a way to provide a cloth shopping bag for local farmer's markets like mine. I figure I can make it affordable by showing them how if they all contribute towards purchasing the initial order, their own individual cost of providing plastic bags will go down. And, if done correctly, the sales of the cloth bags should be a self generating shared profit that can also advertise their farmer's markets.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:12 am 

Joined: Tue Apr 17, 2007 9:34 am
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Location: Deep in the heart'a
rhbee, help cottage industry by finding someone locally who makes cloth tote bags, ideally from recycled fabric. Invite that person to sell their bags at your farmer's market. If shoppers there find cute bags made of old T-shirts (or whatever) for a low price, they'll be more inclined to buy those rather than use the plastic nuisance bags.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:24 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:01 am
Posts: 243
I don't think I'd mind using cloth bags to bring my groceries home. However, I find plastic bags extremely useful for a certain application: lining garbage cans in the house. I use plastic bags from the grocery store to hold my garbage in almost every single room of the house. It's handy and minimizes the mess by just taking up the whole bag, tying it up, and throwing it in the big garbage can I have outside.

Anybody have a more environmentally friendly way to do this? I might be willing to spend a few extra dollars a year on this, but I don't think I would compromise on convenience or if the alternative was messier.

squished


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:52 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 19, 2007 7:58 am
Posts: 231
brad wrote:
Honestly I don't think a switch back to paper is what you want. As J.D. noted, paper (even recycled paper, which some bags are made from now) uses energy and resources too.

The best approach is simply to bring your own bag. I know it sounds hard, and it feels like a pain in the beginning, but you quickly get used to it. We have about six or seven cloth bags. When we go to the supermarket, we bring them with us, put them in the shopping cart, and hand them to the bagger at the cash register. We throw the bags into the laundry every few weeks when they start looking dirty. I keep some bags in the car so we have them handy for impulse purchases as well, and I keep an extra bag in my daypack. It quickly becomes a habit to use your own bags.

And using incentives is a good way to encourage this. Give your customers a nickel for every bag they bring. Lots of coffee shops do this now for people who use their own mugs as well. Whenever I bring my own travel mug to my local coffee shop instead of using a disposable cup, they give me a 5 cent discount.

Reusing is better than recycling. We've been using our cloth bags for a few years now and have avoided the use of many hundreds of plastic OR paper bags. Cloth bags use energy and resources to make them too, of course, but the longer you use them, the lower the per-use cost gets in environmental terms.


Stop and Shop/ Giant Food stores has a promo ending today. 10/$10 CFL's and if you buy 10, you get 3 free reusable mesh shopping bags.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 11:07 am 
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Location: Trumbull, CT
Recently my fiancee and I have taken to buying the shopping bags that are offered in stores. Stop and Shop's bags were $1.00 each, we bought four. Along witht heir shopping buddy service, it's been well worth it. I use the plastic bags we get elsewhere (the newspaper mostly) for poop removal in my yard, and we have lots of bags leftover, we switch to getting paper when we can. The plastic bags get reuse from us, as well as recycled when we have jsut too many. IKEA's started to charge for plastic bags as a deterrent, but I don't know if people will notice the $0.05 difference in their bill.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 11:41 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 11:43 am
Posts: 40
Location: Regina, SK, Canada
I think in general to get anyone to change their habits you have to hit them in their wallet. For example in the plastic/paper bags issue. Offer no bags, but have paper ones for $0.10 if they want them. Then you will see people start to change to fabric bags.

PF bloggers tend approach the entire save the planet thing from the saving your wallet while your at it angle. I know I'm personally a bit of environment nut, but I don't want to force my ideas on my readers. So I package the same information from the money angle to provide some interest to the reader. For example, I'll talk about growing a garden to reduce costs or use less water, power, natural gas....you get the idea.

I also know how hard it can be to make the right choice at times. For example, I've been looking at solar hot water heating for my house, but the cost to install the system would take like 15 years to pay back. I just don't plan on being in that house that long and I don't think I could get more money for the house with a system like that (actually I could see it being a turn off for most buyers). The other issue I've been finding about all these technologies for net zero impact homes is you need to start at the planning stage to get them into a home. A little bit of planning up front could dump in an extra $10,000 for the house, but if you save twice over during the life of the house I don't think people are going to complain that much. Yet if you don't plan for it alot of the ideas will not work in the house at all (eg passive solar heating).

My two cents,
CD

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:41 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 7:18 pm
Posts: 41
Location: Rochester, NY AND Los Angeles, CA
canadiandream wrote:
but I don't want to force my ideas on my readers.


Actually, I feel the opposite. It rarely comes up, but when environmentalism does come up, and it's relevant, I'm willing to go the whole way with it on my blog. If people are looking for a blog written by a non-environmentalist, they're barking up the wrong tree-hugger.

My beloved Rochester area grocery store giant (Wegmans) is selling nice mesh bags that hold a ton for only 99cents. My family have been picking up two each time we go to the store, and keeping them in our cars for future trips. We do use plastic grocery bags for lining trash cans and for throwing out the cat litter and such, but we have such a back log of them - I think we could switch to mesh bags for a year and still not see a noticeable decline in the number of plastic bags we have on hand!

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2007 7:38 am 
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Joined: Wed Apr 18, 2007 6:56 pm
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Location: Trumbull, CT
CFL's do contain mercury, but there exist programs to dispose of mercury. Here's a site that I found to find somewhere to get rid of your mercury.

http://www.earth911.org/master.asp?s=ls&cat=1&serviceid=192

Actually IKEA takes Mercury too.

http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/about_ikea/social_environmental/environment.html

Recycle Information
Bring your used mercury containing lightbulbs to the IKEA store for free disposal. Or for lamp disposal information for your state, please go to http://www.lamprecycle.org to obtain more information.

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