Challenge: Can you say neither to paper or plastic?

Abbi Pittman

Abbi Pittman

Abbi Pittman

I went on a cereal run the other day with a friend.

Hold up, it gets better. Unnamed friend bought milk too.

(To protect the privacy of this unnamed person, I will not reveal that she is Anne Buie, managing editor of The Appalachian.)

And now – wait for it – she also got a bag. A plastic bag. You know, to carry her Crispix box and half-gallon skim milk in.

I mean, I guess that’d be okay if she hadn’t brought her almost-empty backpack with her.

But she did.

And yet my friend asked for a plastic bag; even after I suggested she just put her two groceries in her own pack.

Trust me, they would’ve fit. 

Sometimes we don’t think about the little things we can do to help our environment. Choosing reusable bags, turning our computers off, flushing every other time.

But when you’re conscious of your actions, there’s really no excuse for being wasteful. Especially when someone gives you a choice – “did you need a bag?” or “do you want us to print your receipt?”

Saying yes or no isn’t the same as making eco-friendly decisions on your own, though. There are hundreds of changes you can make daily to lessen your impact on the environment. I’m asking that you start with just this one:

Refuse the bag.
Bring your own.
Just say no.

Americans throw out 100 billion plastic bags a year, according to the Worldwatch Institute. One hundred billion plastic bags that take a thousand years to break down. And in just one of those years, these bags will kill tens of thousands of sea creatures.

That’s too many zeros.

So what about paper bags? Biodegradable, right? Sure, but trees can’t grow as fast as paper decomposes. Earth911 reports that we cut down 14 million trees a year so natural grocery stores can boast a “green” option. Truth is, it takes 98 percent more energy to recycle paper bags compared to plastic ones.

But who really cares about whales and sea turtles? What’s a few less trees going to hurt? Remembering a reusable bag is inconvenient. I won’t deny that. What am I supposed to do if I find myself without one on some spur of the moment cereal run? Carry my five boxes of Panda Puffs? In all seriousness, that is the most eco-friendly option, but it’s not the most practical. And it’s certainly inconvenient.

But you wanna know what’s really inconvenient? An ocean that can’t sustain life. An atmosphere without breathable oxygen.

Put it in perspective.

You can make better, greener choices.

Just start by saying “neither” to “paper or plastic,” and already a cleaner future might just be in the bag.

Pittman, an undecided sophomore from Raleigh, N.C., is the opinion editor.