Plastic Alternatives: Vendor Lists & Resources

Media Borough Sustainable StorefrontTransition Town Media (TTM) kindly researched several vendors who provide alternatives to single-use plastic bags and straws to assist Media's businesses in adapting to the plastic bag ordinance Media Borough Council has approved.

The results of the research are presented in two spreadsheets, each with separate tabs for vendors who provide alternatives to single use plastic. The spreadsheets also list several choices of style and sizes within each company.

The companies represented in these spreadsheets were derived primarily from the compliant sources listed by the Philadelphia and New Jersey plastic ban websites.

These results are not exhaustive, but we endeavored to cover a representative number that should provide the Media businesses with plenty of options. Given the number of options available, we felt it would be helpful to give a top-level summary and some suggestions.

Alternative Materials

When considering possible alternative materials, it is important to keep the goal of the proposed plastic bag and straw ordinance in mind: that is, to reduce the amount of plastic that is littering our streets, landscapes and waterways and that is impacting our health and the health of the fish, animals and birds that we rely on for food. In light of this goal, Transition Town Media cannot recommend any variation of plastic, such as bioplastics. Even though they decompose more quickly than regular plastic, the result of that decomposition is almost as toxic as the plastic being banned. Even bags made of recycled plastic are problematic, although they have two points in their favor: 1) they make use of plastic that would otherwise be trashed, and 2) they are likely to be reused for a much longer time than regular plastic bags. However, they too will eventually return plastic to the waste stream.

This leaves us with paper as the most obvious and least expensive alternative. Other materials, such as bamboo, hemp, and even mushrooms, provide some promising options but at this stage are generally more expensive and harder to find. Paper also has its own environmental drawbacks, however, in that it often involves the destruction of forests, so our hope is that development of alternative fiber sources ramps up quickly in the coming years. Most non-plastic straws are made from paper, although agave and sugar cane are also sometimes used. See the "Just for fun" tab for another ingenious option - pasta! Uncooked, of course.

A very popular, though obviously more expensive, alternative is the cloth, canvas, or nylon bag. Often the most attractive options, they are often also printed with a company's name or logo and thus can be used as advertisement, using advertising dollars rather than supplies dollars. Most of the bag sources listed in our spreadsheet have options for printing a design of your choice. The main reason these are the most sustainable choice are because they are the most durable and can usually last for decades. While nylon still has some toxic byproducts when it decomposes, it is still less toxic than plastic. Cotton and canvas, especially if organically sourced, are the least destructive.

Company Sustainability

Another consideration is the source company's commitment to sustainability. It is generally preferable to buy from a company that is focused on producing sustainable products rather than one that offers some sustainable products among many others. The former will usually offer more sustainable options and is generally more committed to delivering truly sustainable products since that is their brand niche.

We found the following companies to be the most sustainable:

  • SupplyItAll has a vast array of specialized bag choices, including bags for pizza, bread and bakery products, fried foods and sandwiches as well as regular shopping and grocery bags. They focused on compliance for the New Jersey plastic ban
  • Novolex has a strong commitment to sustainability
  • Green Paper Products only carries sustainable options and has a wide variety of compostable restaurant products - plates, bowls, hot and cold cups, utensils, napkins, takeout containers, and so on
  • EcoEnclose, Custom Earth Promos, and Paper Mart use 100% recycled paper
  • NYP Corporation produces cotton and burlap bags
  • Among the straw choices, World Brand Company seemed the most durable
  • SOFi straws are compostable and PFA/PLA free
  • Associated Bag carries other restaurant supplies besides straws
  • Webstaurant Store had the most variety of straw sizes and included agave straws

Our Best Recommendation

In looking at all the options for plastic bag alternatives, we feel that the best alternative from the perspective of sustainability and cost is to not offer any bags at all, and instead, require customers to bring their own bags. Admittedly, most businesses will want to stock some reusable bags for customers to use as they get used to having to bring their own. It is our intention, though, to focus our efforts on educating customers on the importance of switching to reusable bags and how bringing our own makes it so much more affordable. We also plan to teach people to make their own bags from t-shirts and encourage local artists to make bags from discarded clothing, thus reducing the amount of trashed clothing as well.

Using one's own reusable bags and straws is an easy habit to learn once it becomes necessary to learn it (like wearing seat belts). We hope it will lead to even more sustainable behaviors such as bringing one's own takeout containers for restaurant leftovers.

Transition Town Media and Media Borough hope the research and this summary will be useful to the businesses of Media and we offer our support in any way possible to help them to continue to thrive and prosper.