Plastic Bags and Misinformation

I just read the best article I have seen on why banning plastic bags is not the answer.  I have gotten many requests for reusable bags from clients over the years - and I still do not provide them.  While I do use reusable bags for my groceries, I do not believe they are the answer for the drycleaning industry.  In a nut shell, the "reusable garment bags" are made of pressed fibers, not woven - so they don't last.  They will not survive multiple washings and the idea of putting clean clothes back in the dirty bags does not make sense.  When these bags wear out - or are discarded - they end up in land fills and they take more energy to create than the plastic.  These bags cannot be used for any other purpose than laundry (unlike grocery bags).

People who know me are surprised by my position on plastic because of my feeling about conservation and the environment.  My biggest challenge with drycleaning when I returned to the industry was the plastic! . . . . I found a solution, for me and my clients.  We collect the plastic and sell it to a US manufacturer of decking material.  I would name the company here, but they asked me not to.  They have been recycling plastic for 20 years, and produce an upscale product they feel would be denigrated if people knew it was created with recycled plastic.

The article I read was published in American Drycleaner Magazine and it was written by Bruce Luetzow, Partner, Luetzow Industries.

I have been unable to find an online version, and hope that they forgive my reproducing it here, in its entirety.  I hope to get some feedback on the article - thanks.

  • A reusable garment bag ad states, "The simple step of switching (to product X) will help to reduce the estimated 300 million pounds of single-use plastic dry cleaning bags a year that continue to clog our landfills and kill our marine and wildlife"  Not True.

  • David Laist, a senior policy analyst with the federal Marine Mammal Commission, has stated: "In their eagerness to make their case (against plastic bags), some of the environmental groups make up claims that are not really supportable."

  • Some people believe that plastic bags "clog up" landfills.  Not true.  According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, plastic bags (including retail, grocery store, and garment bags) use up only 0.3% of landfill space.  Plastic garment bags make up a small percent of this figure.

  • Due to misinformation relentlessly spread by the media, many people believe that plastic bags kill many sea mammals and seabirds each year.  The San Jose Mercury News stated in an editorial, "Plastic bags kiss an estimated 1 million seabirds and 100,000 other animals every year, whether from eating the things or getting tangled in them." Not true.  The London Times exposed this myth.  The report on which the myth is based mentioned discarded fishing tackle that included fishing nets, not plastic bags.  David Santillo, a marine biologist at Greenpeace, told the Times, "It's very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags."

  • Due to misinformation, some people believe plastic bags are not recyclable.  Not true.  Special plastic bag recycling bins have been installed in large supermarkets, retail stores and drycleaners throughout the country, or bags can be taken to local recycling centers or returned to the manufacturer.  Virtually all of the plastic bags deposited in those bins are recycled and made into new plastic, plastic bags, or composite lumber.

  • Due to misinformation, some people believe that paper bags are better for the environment than plastic bags.  Not true.  Paper bags result in between 2.0-3.3 times more greenhouse gasses than plastic bags.

  • Some people believe that items labeled or stated to be "green" are green.  Questionable.

  • An editorial in the London Times stated, "There is a danger that the green herd, in pursuit of a good cause, stumbles into misguided campaigns. . . . . Many of those who have demonized plastic bags have enlisted scientific study to their cause.  By exaggerating a grain of Truth into a larger falsehood, they spread misinformation and abuse the trust of their unwitting audiences."

  • Reusable garment bags ads state that they "protect the clothes better, are safer, are so much better for the environment, save drycleaners thousands, are waterproof, are water-resistant, breathable, better, much safer, cheaper."  Well, let's see.

  • Mr Dry Cleaner, with your cleaning processes and skills, you renew the life and put freshness into your customer's cleaned garments.  Finished packaging into a polyethylene garment bag showcases your professional work and markets the finished product.  It becomes a walking advertisement of your skills that others can expect if they bring their garments to you for cleaning.  Everyone can see the professionally cleaned finished product hanging from your slick rack.  The garments and bags sparkle as they hang, the garments are clean, identification is easy, the customer is happy, and the garments are now clearly protected.  A clear advantage of disposable poly garment bags is the guarantee of a clean, clear bag every time.

  • Most reusable garment bags are made of solid, opaque cotton, nylon or non-woven polyprpylene material, making it impossible to see the cleaned garments within.  The marketing of your cleaning skills stays hidden.  Identification of the enclosed garments is not an easy task, unless one likes constantly opening and closing the reusable bag.

  • Taking dirty clothes to the drycleaner in the reusable garment bag (now a dirty hamper bag) makes it necessary for the cleaner to not only clean the clothes but also the reusable bag.  Some reusable bags that are not effectively cleaned can have a negative effect on human health and the environment due to bacterial growth.  Many bags require hand washing if one really wishes them to be clean, which is time-consuming for the drycleaner or the bag owner.

  • Most reusable bags are manufactured and imported from China, and many have been found to contain lead, mercury and other heavy metals.  U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for a federal investigation into toxic materials in reusable shopping bags.  Questions have also been raised as to whether or not the lead could be spread in landfills when the bags are discarded.

  • Reusable garment bags that wear out quickly also take up space in landfills.  Most are not biodegradable or compostable.  All the different materials used in their construction (zippers, drawstring closures, see through front pockets, etc.) make trying to recycle some of them an expensive nightmare at best, and may not be economically possible at all.

  • Early last year, the United Kingdom government Environment Agency published a life-cycle assessment of plastic, paper and reusable bags.  "The study confirms that reusable bags are not inherently better for the environment than plastic bags.  Reusable bags have to be used a tremendous number of times to provide an environmental benefit to conventional plastic carryout bags.  The reality is that huge numbers of reusable bags are being thrown away before they are used the requisite amount of times."

  • As the late President Ronald Reagan stated, "Trust, but verify." How true this is, especially with products that are labeled or stated to be green -- Bruce Luetzow


oscarip said...


Thanks for creating this blog! I am a business student from Toronto, Ontario and was hoping you could answer a few questions for a project I am working on.


Rcksgl said...

Hey Sarah,

As the CEO of The Green Garmento, I feel compelled to explain just how misleading this article is.

Luetzow wrote that switching from single use to reusable bags DOES NOT reduce the amount of single use poly that’s used. There are hundreds of drycleaners who will happily testify to reducing their expenditure for poly and garment covers by 20%, 50%, in some cases up to 90%. He does not back up his claim with fact, most likely because there are no facts he can point to.

Luetzow writes that the plastic bags entering the environment don’t clog up our landfills. Consider this — the bags that miss our landfills and end up in the water have created an island of waste in the Pacific Ocean estimated to be twice the size of New Jersey. Most of the billion+ single use poly bags do end up in landfills; the odds of that having no impact on filling our landfills is simply wishful thinking.

He also writes of it being a myth that many seabirds or sea mammals are affected by single use plastic. Does he think that there was nothing living in and around The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Does he believe all that plastic miraculously found a Nebraska-sized hole in the ocean where neither fish nor birds inhabited?

You note that you recycle your bags and Mr. Luetzow talks about how single-use poly is recyclable, but he leaves out how less than 5% is currently being recycled. So while your efforts are laudable, it stands as an anomaly to the norm.

What’s troubling about the article from a personal perspective is how Luetzow implies my company is spreading misinformation through “exaggerating a great of Truth into a larger falsehood” with claims that the bags “protect the clothes better, are safer, are so much better for the environment, save drycleaners thousands, are waterproof, are water-resistant, breathable, better, much safer, cheaper.” But what do we say that is false? Nothing.

If you put a Green Garmento™ under a faucet with your hand underneath, your hand won’t get wet. But if you put a Green Garmento™ between your breath and you hand, you will feel your breath. So they are breathable and water-resistant. That breathability lessens the risk of a child or animal being harmed the bag; it also ensures that the clothes won’t wilt in summer’s heat and humidity. And the water-resistance does clearly better protect clothes against rain, sleet, snow or hail; Mr. Luetzow is the first person I know of ever to claim otherwise.

Rcksgl said...

my note continued...
Luetzow insinuates our bags cannot be effectively cleaned or hand-washed, and that the bags will not hold up to repeated washing. We recommend that our bags are washed with each visit, and they survive multiple washings just fine. (They also make terrific travel/weekend bags, along with serving as the laundry hamper, duffel bag and hanging garment bag for the drycleaned clothes).

Mr. Luetzow also states that reusable bags hide the work, ignoring that only the top piece of clothing housed in single-use plastic is easily visible from any one order, and most poly now has printing on it which hides the work anyway. I am happy to do a survey showing a regular drycleaning conveyor and one with just Green Garmentos and see which sight people find more appealing; I’m pretty certain the Green Garmento rack will win going away.

Mr. Luetzow writes about a legislative study into the safety of reusable bags, but leaves out how their conclusion: that there’s no measure of lead in polypropylene shopping bags. He also omits the reason for the inquiry: concern it was unsafe to eat fruit from reusable shopping bags, something completely irrelevant to drycleaning. And the real issue was the lead used on the ink on the outside of the bag; our California printer uses non-phthalate, non-leaded ink.

The end of Mr. Luetzow’s letter (it was not an article, and when asked, American Drycleaner’s editor and publisher stated they do not share his opinions) is the most misleading. He writes that “huge numbers of reusable bags are being thrown away before they are used the requisite amount of times.” Our drycleaners will tell you that The Green Garmento™ greatest fans are their customers, and that over 90% of the bags sold in our first year of business are still being used today.

And it is because of your customers that I ask you, Sarah, to reconsider your thinking about reusable bags. I wasn’t a drycleaner, but a big drycleaning customer. A customer that hated to reach for one shirt in my closet and get six, then get into a big fight with the twist-tie causing the problem. I hated having a floor filled with paper and plastic, and that was before learning that keeping the plastic on drycleaned clothes can harm the clothes (present company excepted, as I know you are a Green Earth Cleaner). I hated needed a full sized garbage can close to my closet to get rid of all that waste. I hated filling my arms with my dirty clothes and wondering if I’d dropped a shirt or tie on the way to the drycleaner. And I love that my Green Garmento ended all of that hate; an organizational marvel that eliminated the waste and aggravation I associated with drycleaning.

My bet is you have lots of customers just like me. Customers who will revel at the breathability, water resistant nature and organizational properties of The Green Garmento™, so much so that they will either give you a deposit or buy the bags from you. Which reminds me... Mr. Luetzow wrote that it’s a myth that drycleaners can save money from using reusable bags. Here are the facts: drycleaner after drycleaner have turned their packaging of clothes from a major cost into a profit center. That is probably why Mr. Luetzow felt the need to defend his company’s product. The reusable garment bag is destined to replace single use packaging: it does protect better, it is safer, it is better for the environment, and it is better for the drycleaner’s bottom line.

I love that you have pride in your profession, and I know that your drycleaner is not just one of the best in your area, but one of the best in the country. And I accept that Mr. Luetzow is concerned over the ever-growing use of the reusable bag, just as the blacksmith probably fretted over the use of the Model T. But anything printed in a major publication should be vetted for facts; that letter was filled with anything but. The fact is, it was Mr. Luetzow that provided the misinformation, and you now are armed with the facts to know that.

kubajean said...

Your quote from the UK study does not seem to exist in the study itself..where did you pull that quote from!

The Ablitt's said...

Great discussion!

To clarify, I did not write this article. I transcribed it because I thought it was interesting and contrary to most opinions I have heard.

The article was written by Bruce Luetzow, Partner, Luetzow Industries and published in American Drycleaner


John Kenly said...

Nice post.

Starplayer said...

Actually it does. It is a pdf file i have print out a hard copy of this life cycle assessment. It is a scientific research study that proves the single use plastic bag is still the most environment friendly product among its competitor.

Starplayer said...

I really like your article, it's very hard to find people nowadays who analyze the truth not just by listening to what other peoples say. Scientific proof is the truth, unlike those eco coalition groups who just claims something without evidence. Keep it up! Thumbs up for you.

The Ablitt's said...

Thanks for the comments!

Zeeshan Hanzillah said...

I think many rumors now will get vanished....your simple and easy to understandable style is very helpful...can you guide me how can i write like this for plastic cards printing industry..