November 24, 2009

Reusable bags

Those are some, but not all, of our reusable bags. I just grabbed the ones I could find easily. Lately I've been encouraged by this story about Target and CVS promoting the use of reusable bags, but at the same time I'm still surprised and saddened by how many people still use plastic bags at the supermarket.

If they knew the cost of those bags on the environment, I don't think they would do it. Sure, some of them wouldn't care if every baby seal on earth was strangled by their plastic beer rings. But most people would be shocked and alarmed and immediately buy a reusable bag. I think a lot of people just think it's some kind of a scam to charge them more money.

I recently read this fact on my friend Leigh's blog, Compact by Design:

"An estimated 1 million birds and 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags which block their digestive tracks."

Oh, that's so sad. Why, oh why, is it so hard to stop the madness?

If you're like me with the stupid paper towels, and have a hard time developing this habit, here are a few tips that helped me. I switched over several years ago and virtually never need to use the plastic anymore. The key is to have plenty of bags and to remember to bring them into the store.

1. Buy bags every chance you get, in lots of different sizes. If you only have big bags, you might not bring them in for just a few items, or if you only have small bags, you won't use them for larger items. My husband and I both have huge IKEA bags in our car (although I haven't used mine during my Compact year), and we each have lots of different-sized bags in our car, and in several rooms in the house. My husband keeps a few on the back of his office door, and I keep a bunch in my armoire. But the main thing is to have them in the car trunk. That way you can use them for any kind of shopping.

2. Once you get in the habit, it will be easy to remember to grab a bag when you're walking into a store. But until you do, make sure they're always in the car. If you've left some in the house and forgotten to return them to the car, it won't matter if you have five other bags in the car.

3. If you realize you've forgotten your bags while you're in the store, go back out to your car and get them. You'll probably only need to do this once.

4. If you only have one or two items, you don't need a bag at all. We've been so trained that we need bags for everything, and that's fine if they're reusable cotton, but NOT if they're plastic.

Until they completely stop making plastic bags, you can do your part by getting a few reusable ones. If you don't like the idea of paying for them, I'm sure you can pick some up for free somewhere. Many of mine come from environmental organizations I donate to.

Do you use reusable canvas bags? What are some of your tips for making it a habit? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.

15 comments:

Krista said...

I don't think it is ignorance but more just lazyness. Maybe both in education and in practice. I keep a cloth bag in my purse that folds into it's own little bag so it is very small and I always have it with me. This works great and is woth the $5 investment!

Erika said...

My husband is a convert soley because it's so much easier to carry cloth bags filled with cans and other heavy groceries then those stupid plastic bags that rip when you put more than 5 things in them. Seriously, if someone is resisting, get them to try it ONCE and they will convert for their own benefit...

stephanie said...

Ah! Glad you brought this up.
I always keep reusable bags in my car to take into places with me, BUT i DO still collect plastic occasionally because I have one need for plastic bags that I would LOVE another option for.

CAT LITTER SCOOPING!
and
TRASH BAGS

ok, that's two.
What are my options in those depts?
Anyone?
Anyone?

stephanie

Vegan Good Life said...

I started bringing my own take-out containers to restaurants for leftovers since portion sizes are so big and I hated the container waste. Much like with the reusable bags, it just took a few times to get into the habit.

Some supermarkets offer incentives: Whole Foods Market around 5 or 10 cents, at my Trader Joe's in New Jersey you can enter into a raffle for a $25 gift card.

I'm as discouraged as you are by the small number of shoppers bringing their own bags. Americans feel very entitled to their disposable ways, I think, and don't seem to connect their own personal habits to the greater problems. Thanks for bringing awareness on this.

Carol Ashworth said...

I have gotten some of favorite reusable bags from participating in a 10k and a 5k (in my case walking in them). It seems there are so many ways to get them, I don't know why anyone would ever have to buy one! I do have a problem remembering to use them, even though they are in my car. I'm going to take your advice next time and go back out to get one when I remember it. One of the things that does help is if I see someone coming out with cloth bags as I'm going in. Thus, the more people that start using them, the easier I think it will be for everyone to remember to use them.

Lisa said...

A suggestion for Stephanie...instead of lining your trash cans with those plastic bags, use the bags dried pet foods come in. They're heavier, waterproof, and as a pet owner, you probably already have them. They also work great for disposing of cat poo.

Kristen said...

We have several reusable bags and use them at the grocery store as long as they make it back into the car (I need to get some more so we can have them in both cars). But like someone else said I do need the bags sometimes for cleaning out the cat litter. I have yet to find a good alternative for that. I generally just get a few of the Target plastic bags though because they are thicker and don't get holes in them.

hiptobeme said...

Ye, plastic bags are the bane of my existence and I have a memory like a sieve so I can tell you I have gotten strange looks when I parked my hugely full shopping cart full of groceies to go back to my van and get my cloth bags. I just couldn't bring home any more plastic bags! It's true, you need to build up a supply, here they are about a buck each, but they are amazing! I use them all the time. I have also been cheered by this website: http://www.myrecycledbags.com/ and currently I am attempting my first reuseable shopping bag made entirely of Plarn, or plastic yarn made from shopping bags. Wish me luck!

This Thrifted Life said...

I also use plastic bags for kitty litter and am searching for an alternative. I try to only keep as many at one time as I will use in the next couple weeks and use reusable bags for the rest. But I would love to find a better solution! I tried Feline Pine flushable litter, and my cats, quite simply, rebelled.

And for anyone looking for inexpensive reusable bags, there are usually plenty to be had at the thrift stores!

Betsy Talbot said...

In Seattle it is pretty common to see shoppers with their own bags. And even getting my groceries delivered by Amazon is cool because you can select the "minimal" option and they just pack your items loosely in the reusable bins instead of bagging them.

I love your point about not always needing a bag. When we first moved here (and I didn't use canvas bags) I was in line behind someone buying a few pieces of fruit and a canned food item. She told the clerk she didn't need a bag and just tossed them all in her purse. It was the first time I had ever seen someone do that, and it was a good lesson for me.

We're on foot a lot, so we keep our bags on hooks by the front door with our jackets and scarves.

Donna Freedman said...

If you're handy with a needle, try this: Buy a pillowcase from the thrift store or from a yard sale. Sew on a handle. You're done.
Pillowcases are very roomy so you can pack a lot in them -- which makes it important to have the handle sewn on VERY securely.
What to make the handle out of? I don't know. Roll up some scrap material into a couple of tubes and stitch them closed? Cut handles out of canvas bags that for whatever reason have given up the ghost? I'm sure all you crafty types have much better ideas.
Or just haul the pillowcase/bag the way Santa Claus hauls his sack of toys. :-)
Oh, and I've seen canvas bags from various worthy causes on sale in thrift stores. They're much sturdier than those reusable bags that most supermarkets sell.
I've also heard it suggested that you hang at least one canvas bag on the same hanger as your coat -- when you go to get the coat, it'll remind you to bring bags.

rmlrhonda said...

Over time I have found your method of having lots of bags so you always have something to use, combined with a couple of bags that squish down small enough to keep in my purse mean I can almost always use my own bags. I do occasionally still get the plastic, as I also find them useful. But I do hope to eventually phase them out completely. And they almost always get used many times before they are disposed of at my house.

Tam said...

Oh, no. It is ignorance. Sadly. I was in my local grocery store recently and brought my canvas bags. The checker said that soon, our store would be charging for plastic bags. "Good," I said, and both she and the bagger looked at me like I was crazy and shook their heads. When I tried to explain why plastic bags are bad, they acted like they didn't believe me.

I live in Miami, and reusable bags are not fashionable here. Sigh.

Jessica said...

I love using reusable bags for the same reasons as others have stated: bigger, roomier, easier to fit items in, no waste. I live in a small town with a huge Wal-Mart and it makes me sad to think of all the bags consumed by shoppers there. I have never, ever seen another person around here with a reusable bag.

Here is a question I have for others - how do you handle the bring your own bag thing like at Wal-Mart, ours has the spinny thing with no real room for the cashier to easily hand me items for me to pack (I prefer packing my own bags anyway). They always look at my like I'm a nutter!

Some people in my family literally are anti-recycling. I went to clean paper out of my brothers car today so he didn't throw it in the garbage and he was about to say no to me cleaning out the car . . . Imagine trying to get him to use a reusable bag.

c said...

I found a cat litter that is flushable, natural, and biodegradable. It's called Swheat Scoop. It is wheat based, and still clumps for easy scooping. Luckily, my cat likes it!

I have a few bags I've received for free, or bought cheaply in various sizes. I also have a few Chico bags, which I love! They fold into a small pocket, and can be clipped to your keychain, purse, or whatever. I was so proud when my boyfriend started using them, and now he won't use plastic bags if he can avoid it. *aww*