“Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes. It takes 500 (or more) years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill.” -Center for Biological Diversity
Step 1: Notice
We see them all day, checking out at any store, watching them fly across the road, packing snacks, buying vegetables, toting items to a friend, packaging gifts, collecting trash. Plastic bags are easy and cheap to produce, inexpensive to buy, waterproof, disposable. But they are also a huge source of waste and one of the biggest offenders when it comes to litter. The wind catches their balloon-like structure and whisks them away, to stick in trees, enter storm drains and, as I’m sure you’ve seen in the news, end up in the belly of a whale. They’ve even found a plastic bag in the depths of the Mariana Trench.
Replacing plastic bags with reusables is one of the easiest and least lifestyle-altering changes you can make away from single-use plastic.
Step 2: Start with shopping.
You can purchase inexpensive shopping totes at pretty much any grocery store. You can get by with only 3 or 4 even for large shopping days; you’d be surprised how much can fit in one bag as opposed to plastic! My dad noticed that at his local store, one day they placed a single item each in it’s own separate plastic bag. The next time he went, he asked for paper. Then he put a reusable tote in his car.
The first habit to build is to remember your bags.
I kept one next to my driver’s seat or rolled up in my purse until it became a fixed habit. My husband bought a slim cooler bag he likes, which helped him remember.
There are many types of shopping bags - you can use what you have, buy sturdy cotton bags, use free totes you acquire over the years, purchase the $1 totes hanging by the checkout lane, or ask for paper. If they get dirty, just wash and reuse.
Find what works for you. If you forget your bags, don’t worry. Like the old saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Building habits takes time. If you have a few items, just ask to go without a bag.
We have found a key to refusing plastic bags is to ask up front before they get close to bagging. Our 11 year old son made a purchase at our hardware store and, when he handed the item over at checkout, he said “Oh, and I won’t need a bag, thanks.” Perfect tactic. I also make sure to put my reusable bags in the front of my cart, so I don’t pile everything on top of them and struggle to get them out in time (can you tell that was a problem for me? ha). I make sure to put the bags at the front of the groceries to make it clear and easy for the baggers.
Beyond shopping bags, produce bags are another great purchase. You can get these at many stores, order online, or make your own if you’re crafty. We have a set of 10, and I keep 5 with my bags and my husband has the other 5. If you forget these, you don’t even need a bag at all. We just pile the produce in our cart, separate it at checkout, no problem. If you’re worried about them getting dirty when not in a bag, just remember they grew in the dirt. Plus, we usually wash them before we eat them anyway!
Step 3: Storage
There are so many alternatives to zip-top storage bags. In my home, we just use storage containers instead of bags, but all it takes is a quick search to find great options for packing lunches, storing food and more. You can also use paper lunch sacks when you just need something fast. These can be reused if not dirty, go in the compost or be recycled when you’re done.
Plastic bag recycling:
For the inevitable plastic bags you still end up with, be sure to recycle them at your local store drop-off. Plastic bags never go in your curbside bin. They clog up the machinery at the recycling facilities, causing work to stall and repairs required. Type in your zip code at plasticfilmrecycling.org to find a plastic bag and film drop off site near you. We take ours to our local Publix or Target, and drop them off on the way in to shop. I collect any plastic grocery sacks, bread bags, deflated air-filled plastic packaging (not bubble wrap), wrappers around paper towels, TP, etc. We wash out any styrofoam containers and do the same!
There are so many more areas in our daily lives that include plastic bags: take-out, yard waste, gift-giving, packaging, shipping. We will keep exploring step by step through the month of June. Where do you see plastic bags?
Take the #12challengePLASTIC and start making small steps away from single-use plastic bags today!
Pay attention the the plastic bags you encounter this week and how they are used.
Make a note of the different kinds of plastic bags, or the places you see them and share on The Clean Up Project Facebook page.
Start building habits to use reusable bags when shopping, packing or storing food.