Leeanna Ellis and Shauna Gerke

Leeanna Ellis and Shauna Gerke

It's a bigger question than just “Paper or plastic?”

It's an issue that has been heavily debated in Omaha: Should single-use plastic bags be banned?

The Omaha City Council delayed a vote on the issue Tuesday, but the proposed ordinance would apply to grocers and retailers including Walmart, Target and Walgreens.

Managing Editor Leeanna Ellis and Front Office Manager Shauna Gerke tackle the issue.

Ellis: Plastic bags can be reused, recycled

A ban on plastic bags to reduce the use of plastic bags, on paper, seems like a good initiative. The argument is it would reduce plastic waste in landfills and on streets.

Some deem these plastic bags as “single-use.” However, I have to disagree.

At my house, we re-use our plastic grocery bags for garbage bags. But we've also re-used them to donate clothing to local charities or to simply transport items from one place to another.

After we return home with groceries, my husband and I place the bags in a storage bag to be ready to used again. My family can't be the only one re-using the bags in this manner.

If people aren't willing to re-use the bags, they can be recycled. Many grocery stores and other retailers, including Target, Walmart, Lowes and Safeway, have bins located at the entrance to place unwanted plastic bags.

Recycled plastic bags can be made into plastic lumber, which is used to make park benches, decks, fences and even playground equipment. They can also be recycled into new plastic bags.

Banning plastic bags isn't the answer. Instead, it's about educating the public and making it easier for people to recycle these bags.

Gerke: Reusable bags are the way to go

Last week, when I heard the Omaha City Council was trying to ban plastic grocery bags, I thought, that’s not right. How can the city dictate what type of sack someone takes their groceries home in? Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’ve been on board with a plan like that for years.

“Paper or plastic?” Do you remember being asked that question at the checkout counter years ago? I would usually pick paper, unless the item was wet or was at risk of leaking.

Several years ago, I decided to use fabric grocery bags. Not those plastic or stiff ones you can buy at almost any store nowadays, but real nice fabric bags that would hold a lot of groceries. I used them several times, still placing my packaged meats, milk, etc., in plastic bags because those juices are not something you want in a fabric bag — eww.

But then I stopped remembering to take them in to the store. As it sometimes goes, I went a step further and eventually forgot to put them back in my car. So, at this point I’m back to using plastic bags. But, this new controversy has me rethinking my habits.

Did you know 380 million single-use grocery bags are used each year in the United States? I think half of those are at my house. Exaggeration aside, I do have a lot of plastic grocery bags I tend to put in the trash, which is not a good thing. Trouble is, I’m not sure where to take them to be recycled. I know my local recycling center doesn’t take them, and I don’t go to a regular grocery store very often, so what is one supposed to do with all the plastic bags? Switching to reusable bags is a good solution.

While I still think it’s not right for the City of Omaha to tell me what type of bag I can use to take my groceries home, I can understand the desire to keep our communities clean and help the environment at the same time. Just remember to take your reusable bags to the store with you.

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