Monday, March 14, 2011

Green Alternatives: Plastic Bags

Green Alternatives is a series that shows you the green alternatives to normally wasteful/toxic products. I use all of the featured products in my own home. I am not being paid to endorse any of the products in this series, I just really like them! In my opinion, a green alternative falls into at least 2 of these categories:
     1. They contain no toxic chemicals/fragrances/etc
2. They are reusable and/or eliminate/reduce the amount of waste normally produced with their           counterpart
     3. They contain less or no plastic
     4. They are produced by ethical companies who care about my health and the environment

So, it has been a while since I have done green alternatives post, so here we go! The most popular way of "going green" these days seems to be the use of reusable cloth bags for grocery shopping. I love these, and I do see a fair amount of people who are using them whenever I go shopping. However, we are still in the minority. I'm not sure if the lack of use is because people always forget their bags, or that they are just ignorant to the woes of plastic bag use, but it really bothers me to see people loading up their carts with plastic bags. But the thing that bothers me the most is seeing people who absolutely do not need a bag, and accepting them. Why do you need a huge plastic bag to carry your jar of peanut butter, or 3 bananas to the car? Why do you think we have hands? I really think that if hands and arms were as useless as people make them out to be, then we would have evolved past them by now...

Plastic bags are not recyclable in many cities, and are one of the biggest cloggers of landfills. They are strewn through our oceans, found inside of animals, and are seen billowing through the streets like disgusting, man made tumbleweeds. They are designed for single use, and are completely wasteful. But they are not alone. No, we also seem to require plastic bags to put all of our produce in, our bulk items in, and are even available to put already packaged items in, where you then take them to the cashier, and they are then wrapped in a second layer of plastic! Argh!!

 I went to the local Costco in town about a month ago, and to my disgust, they had giant plastic bags on rolls next to a chip display. The point of this? Well, there was a sale if you bought two of the bags of chips. But heaven forbid people should actually have to pick two bags of chips and then just place them in their carts, or (eek!!) carry them! No, you could "conveniently" place both bags into a third plastic bag, and then put them in your cart. There was even a big sign with pictures and instructions on how to bag your chips. I kid you not. How is that necessary? And the sad thing is I saw several people bagging their chips. Sigh. 

My whole point to this rant is that there are reusable alternatives to these plastic nightmares. There is the quintessential cloth bag for holding all of your purchases, which are great, and I never enter a store without at least two (because you always end up buying more than you think you will, or at least I do). But there are also some great mesh bags out there for produce and bulk items. I always have at least three of these on hand, and they are great. I am not afraid of putting loose fruit directly into my basket, but I do like to put my broccoli and lettuce in bags, so I use these. If I forget my bags, all produce goes directly into the basket/cart, and I make myself come back another time for bulk items. Forgetting soon becomes a thing of the past when you know that there is no other way you can get your things. Also, if I forget my cloth bags, I make myself carry everything out in my arms, or put it directly into the cart and wheel it out to my car. 

Most of my produce bags are a very fine mesh material, so I can put anything bulk in them, from oat bran to dried beans. I then write the bin number on my shopping list (to avoid having to use twist ties). The bags have drawstrings on top, and I simply pull them closed, and put them in my basket. Yes, I get looks from the cashiers like I am from Mars sometimes, but I also get a lot of comments on what a great idea they are, and they always appreciate that I have recorded the bin number for them. 

You could make your own produce bags easily with a washable stretchy fabric, and give them a drawstring or zipper closure. Just make sure the material is thin enough that it won't weigh too much, which ends up costing you more money for your items. I bought my bags from a local health food store well over a year ago. It was a great deal, at about $3 for several bags. I also have one that was hand made by a co-worker's mom. I just run them through the wash if they get dirty, and then toss them into one of my cloth bags. 

The biggest thing is remembering to bring your bags with you ALWAYS, and not letting yourself get into the habit of letting yourself use plastic if you forgot. If you absolutely need a bag, a lot of stores will provide you with a paper bag, you just have to ask. But if there is always an easy way out, then you will never force yourself to remember. I also have a couple bags that fit into my purse, and I always have them in case of a "bag emergency". Next time you go to accept a bag, think to yourself "do I REALLY need this? Could I carry this without a bag?". It is an automatic habit of mine now as well to refuse a bag before my items are even being scanned, as a lot of places just automatically start bagging things.  I even had a cashier throw out the bag that had held one of my items for less than 5 seconds. No lie. I was devastated. 

Don't beat yourself up for forgetting, just try and make it a habit. It apparently takes the human mind 3 weeks to learn a new behavior. I say, make the refusal of all plastic bags your newest behavior! Dear Mother Earth will thank you from the bottom of her heart.


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