The Paper Bag Dilemma

Cuyahoga County, Ohio which includes Cleveland, banned single use plastic bags on 1 January 2020. Businesses that give customers plastic bags have until July 2020 to comply without consequences.

Grocery stores where I shop are now using paper bags. Walgreen’s uses paper bags. Everybody has until July to use up their plastic bag inventory. I haven’t seen anything in the news about adjusting to paper. Given the degree of adjustment needed it’s surprising the lack of instruction to the people who use them.

Apartment buildings in particular have unique situations regarding trash. Our lease states that all trash must be in plastic bags and tightly-tied before putting it down the shoot. Every floor of course has a trash room with a trash shoot in it.

Our apartment complex has a huge trash bin in the building on the ground floor – which presents its own challenges with cockroaches. It took a long time for people to stop dumping everything including garbage down the trash shoot, unwrapped.

Most people who became compliant, used store plastic bags as their trash bags – small enough to get down the shoot and easy to tie tightly.

Since the ban on plastic bags which everybody used to wrap their trash, nobody has said anything about alternative wraps. Try to put trash and garbage in a paper bag with no tie and put it down the trash shoot. If there is anything wet, it will fall right through the bag.

Although we all have garbage disposals, there’s not much these cheap disposals can handle without causing maintenance problems.

Food prep, for instance, causes wet-bag, yet the peelings are not suited for cheap garbage disposals. Onion, potato, banana, orange peels – anything with a peel. Watermelon, cantaloupe. Anything with a core – green and red peppers, tomatoes, corn on the cob – all wet and all unable to be put in the garbage disposal.

Coffee grounds and tea bags are wet. You can’t put them down the disposal either, so into the paper bag they go.

Opened and emptied cans, bottles, containers of food – all wet – even if you rinse them out, still wet. Nobody is going to wash their containers and dry them before putting them down the shoot.

It doesn’t take much wet to break a paper bag – and then on the way to the shoot, the bottom falls out and there’s a mess all over the hallway.

The result is going to be a smelly nightmare in the summer months and cockroach infestations will bloom out of control.

So what’s the solution? A while back I bought a bunch of wide packing tape in the dollar bin at the grocery store. Now, I line the paper bag with the store flyer – but those run out. I fill the bag two-thirds full. I push the top down over the garbage/trash then tape the bag – around top to bottom like a cross, two ways, like you wrap a gift package with ribbon – sometimes more than once.

I wonder though if the tape is safe for the environment? I got this tape cheap. People on fixed incomes in these apartment complexes are not going to spend money on tape to wrap their paper bags.

I’m beginning to wonder about the silence of Cuyahoga County regarding alternative ways to secure the trash in high rise apartment buildings.

In addition, plastic grocery bags were used to pick up dog poo, twist it, tie it and dump it in the trash. Nobody told people who have dogs what to do. So, when the last of the small dog poo bags I found somewhere is gone, I’ll use paper towels to pick up the poo, fold it, then place it in a lunch size paper bag and twist it or roll the top down. Still, it won’t be secure. These small paper bags also aren’t cheap. But with no one instructing the populace I have to figure it out myself.

Most people won’t do that. The trash shoots will be one huge mess. There will be trash all over the place. Living near Lake Erie, the rats will be the only benefactors. Then the rats will come into the units within the building looking for more.

July isn’t that far away. Do you think it’s time to instruct on wrapping trash in paper bags absent the use of plastic in high rise apartment buildings?

So, where are all the environmentalists who fought for the plastic bag ban? I agree with the ban. But why aren’t they participating in the instructional process? Their solution seems to focus only on carrying groceries from checkout to car to house and we can all find non-plastic bags with which to do that. They fall short, however, in their assessment of the switch from plastic to paper if they think that carrying groceries is the only concern.


Steve accidentally dropped his keys down the shoot when opening the door to drop the trash. He opened the door with one hand and had the trash and his keys in the other hand.

It was a week-end, meaning no staff on duty, so we went downstairs to where the dumpster is located inside the building to see if we could retrieve them. Of course we couldn’t, the dumpster being so big.

What I did notice however, was that just about all the bags in the dumpster were huge black plastic bags filled with trash and garbage, some not tied, others half-tied.

I immediately surmised, that due to the small plastic grocery bags no longer being offered at the stores, people switched to the extra- large bags. That means that to fill one of those bags, the tenant has to keep it in their apartment for at least a week, maybe longer.

That of course is going to increase the cockroach population building-wide by leaving garbage and trash in one’s apartment for so long. I empty trash everyday by the end of the day, so nothing is left overnight. It’s not as if our kitchen waste baskets are hermetically sealed. They’re not, which makes easy pickings for cockroaches.

Well, Steve left a message for maintenance and they were kind enough, when emptying the dumpster, to look and sure enough they were there.

But I see a big pest problem brewing unless someone can come up with a better way to dispose of trash from apartments, other than once a week.

Published by Sharon Lee Davies-Tight, artist, writer/author, animal-free chef, activist

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