Have you noticed that lately at the grocery store they don't even ask "paper or plastic?"? They just put everything you buy into about a jillion plastic bags, right? Sometimes one or two items in a bag at most. And what do you do with all those bags? While they're great for carrying wet clothes or dog waste, you really can only re-use so many of them.
This is a picture of a "bag holder" I picked up at IKEA years ago. It's stuffed full of plastic grocery and newspaper bags I've collected. Despite recycling tons of bags, reusing them for stinky diapers when I tend little ones, and bringing my own bags to the grocery store for the last few months, these plastic menaces are still taking over my pantry! (I hate to admit it, but I have a second bag holder out in the garage, which is also pretty full...)
Did you know that only 1-3% of plastic bags end up getting recycled? According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year. (The estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion!) And each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.
Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade, which means they break down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
In 2001, Ireland consumed 1.2 billion plastic bags, or 316 per person. An extremely successful plastic bag consumption tax, or PlasTax, introduced in 2002 reduced consumption by 90%. Approximately 18,000,000 liters of oil have been saved due to this reduced production. Governments around the world are considering implementing similar measures. In fact, in San Francisco, a new law was passed that will ban plastic bags in the next year.
So what can you do about it? Bring your own bags. Really. It's not that hard. Have you seen the reusable bags at the grocery store? Sometimes they go on sale at my local grocery store 10 for $10. And each time you use your reusable bags, you'll get a credit of 5 cents a bag, so after 20 uses, your bag has paid for itself AND prevented 20 plastic bags from being used.
You don't necessarily need to buy new bags. You can reuse the paper or plastic bags you already own and still receive the 5 cent credit. You can find reusable tote bags you already own or make your own bags. Here's a pattern on MarthaStewart.com that shows how to turn old t-shirts into reusable bags:
Martha's t-shirt bag pattern
Reusablebags.com, where I found most of the information listed above, has some great bags that fold up really small so you can toss them in your purse and have them handy wherever you shop.
I try to keep my reusable bags in my car at all times, because, otherwise, I forget about them until I'm already checking out at the register. It takes a while to make it a habit, but I'm getting there. Right now, the hardest part is explaining to some of the cashiers that I don't need or want the plastic bags, I have my own.
Granted, most stores have a bin now located near the entrance where you can recycle your used bags, which is great, but I've noticed it's almost always stuffed full, and I have to wonder if the bags really get recycled anyhow. Wouldn't it just be better to reduce the number of bags out there in the first place?