McConnell: What’s greener than reusable bags

When most people think about saving the environment, they think about recycling, driving their car less or, for the true activist, making their Facebook carbon neutral with some slew of fancy applications.

At the grocery store, these people do their part to cut down on petroleum use by bringing their own reusable bag, often printed with some sort of “green” slogan, despite rarely actually being green in color.

But when it comes to fuel use, what kind of bag you use is less important than what you’re putting in it.

When you bite into a crisp Washington apple, that apple is covered in more than just wax to give it that beautiful, glossy sheen — it’s dripping in oil all the way back to its state of origin.

That’s because that apple has had to be shipped across the country — in a refrigerated truck, no less — just so it can take up space in grocery stores where other, gas-saving local apples could be.

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but if it’s not local, it’s definitely not shrinking your carbon footprint.

As the United States approaches winter, when it’s more difficult to grow and harvest food, the environmental cost of produce goes way up as we start enjoying “fresh” fruits from places like Chile.

National and international transport has gotten more efficient, which means it’s easier than ever to import specialty food items and out-of-season produce from across the globe. In addition, fuel used for international freight traveling by air or sea is tax-exempt, which also cut costs. So although transport may be cheap, the environmental price is high.

Fortunately, people like Will Allen, former pro basketball player and now the CEO of Growing Power and recent recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, are stepping up to the challenge.

To address the lack of local produce in urban areas, Allen has developed a system of vertical indoor farming, which saves space in areas where land is at a premium. This practically eliminates the environmental costs of transportation by growing food right in the neighborhoods that will consume it.

Allen’s urban farm, located in the center of Milwaukee, Wis., uses a unique three-tiered system of plant and fish farming, which saves space, water and huge amounts of fuel. It also cuts carbon emissions. This system is what Allen hopes in the future will allow him to build “vertical farm skyscrapers” in other cities.

As global trade becomes easier and faster, food needs to stay local and slower.

Within Lawrence, organizations like the ECM and the campus garden grow some of the produce to sustain their projects. In addition, several community gardens as well as the local farmers market provide the community with opportunities to grow or buy local produce.

Although most of us aren’t being handed $500,000 no-strings-attached grants, we can still help by buying locally grown and produced foods. You may have saved some petroleum with your reusable shopping bag, but if it’s full of imported produce, it’s just as delusional as emblazoning a blue bag with the phrase “I’m green.”

McConnell is a Dallas junior in English.

  • Updated Oct. 21, 2008 at 9:20 pm
  • sjschlag

    I always forget to bring re-usable bags.

    Is that bad?