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I’ve noticed a lot of local merchants using “biodegradable” bags lately. In fact I’ve even blogged positively about the phenomenon. However, a recent piece of news has led me to rethink the “greenness” of these biodegradable forms of packaging.

Worldwide there is a shortage of grains, causing the price of basic foodstuffs to skyrocket.  While vulnerable people in the worst off parts of the world are starving, we in the rich North have taken to making disposable bags out of food, namely out of corn, to assuage our environmental guilt. While these biodegradable products do go some way towards solving some of our waste problems here, isn’t making disposable products out of corn pretty much the same as throwing out food?

The downside of these biodegradable packaging solutions has been generally ignored. However, the so-called green-promise of biofuels (also largely made out of corn) has recently come under criticism from a number of sources: eg. UK Chief Scientific Advisor, and Greenpeace, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, WWF. According to a UBC geographer, the use of pesticides and fertilizers (mostly manufactured out of oil) to grow corn to make ethanol and biodiesel will increase the extent of the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico (a “dead zone” is exactly what it sounds like). Meanwhile, development groups have criticized the use of food-growing land to serve the overdeveloped world’s hunger for driving their cars. The Economist puts it starkly: filling an SUV’s tank just once uses as much maize as is required to feed a person for a year.

The simple truth is our lifestyles are unsustainable. We can’t just exchange one product for another, we have to actually reduce our consumption. In terms of shopping bags, there is a very simple solution. Use a reusable totebag, preferably one made out of something that would otherwise be filling up a landfill somewhere. I’ve already blogged about Loblaws’ nifty recycled bags. Today, I want to blog about my favourite reusable bag: the Velcro GreenBag.

The reason I like the Velcro GreenBag so much is its design. It is easy to keep in a coat pocket or purse because it packs up into a small flat pouch that velcros shut. When it is expanded to its full size, it can carry the equivalent of 2 to 3 plastic grocery bags worth of heavy stuff. Unfortunately it is not made of recycled materials. It is, however, recyclable. I’ve had mine now for nearly year and there is no sign of wear or tear and I do bring them with me always.  By the time my GreenBags are ready to be recycled, I hope GreenBag has managed to work out how to make a replacement out of recycled materials.

In Ottawa you can buy GreenBags at the WheatBerry. Online they are available through www.ecobags.com.

The Wheatberry, 206 Main Street,Ottawa, ON K1S 1C6,(613) 235-7580

If you’d like to let the world community know that you think we should feed people not cars you can sign onto a global petition at Avaaz.org.

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