The other day I was in the checkout line at the local big box grocery store, feeling all superior with my reusable bags as I watched the two customers in line ahead of me
pay the cashier for paper bags. The bags couldn’t possibly hold the weight of all they purchased, but they were determined to not use more than they had to… so they of course ended up carrying out the laden bags in their arms rather than by the handles. It looked pretty inconvenient. I was thinking about how I had been using reusable bags since the early 2000’s when I first began going to Farmer’s Markets, and how many hundreds of bags I have probably kept out of landfills in the past 11years. I was thinking about how cool it was that so many cities, counties and countries now had laws in place to ban the circulation of these “single use” bags and how sad it was that everyone everywhere didn’t support this kind of forward thinking progressive legislation. Were people just being lazy? Did they think they couldn’t afford a reusable bag? Did they leave it in the car? Did they think they were less practical? Had they not gotten into the habit of bringing one yet? What could their excuse have been?
My smug smile quickly vanished as I watched all of my groceries… all the grass fed , hormone free meat and organic fruit and veggies… slide past the scanner in their single-use plastic produce bags. Epic Fail. How could I – in all my tree-hugging grandeur – have disregarded something as important as this? Had I really overlooked it all these years, or was I just being lazy? I found myself immersed in thought over this as I silently loaded my meat and produce into the reusable bags at the end of the belt.
“Do people ever use re-usable bags for their produce?” I asked the cashier. She mulled it over for a moment.
“Yeah, come to think of it, they sometimes bring these mesh bags to put stuff in. Not often though.”
“Do the mesh bags make it more difficult for you to ring up the produce?” I inquired. “I wouldn’t want to create a hassle for you guys.”
“Ya know, it doesn’t make a big difference to me. I can see what it is, and I have to put the code into the register for the produce anyway. The bags don’t weigh much, so it shouldn’t bring the cost up.” I hadn’t even thought of that, actually. I was glad I asked her.
“I think I am going to go home and look for some on Amazon.” I said.
“I’m going to too.” She replied. “It’s actually a really good idea that I keep forgetting about, so I better do it tonight before I forget again.”
I felt kinda silly, actually. Of course someone had already come up with a solution to this problem! I went home and looked them up on Amazon.com. There were many to choose from, I wanted to order them all and try them out. I opted instead to get two different ones that I thought were reasonably priced and try them out. I settled on Natural Home Reusable Produce Bags (a set of 5 ran me $4.99), and the Flip and Tumble Reusable Bags (which were double the price @ $11.00 for 5). That would take care of the produce end of things… but what about meat?
Having spent many years in the restaurant industry, I am very well read in the food sanitation department. My ten plus years as a vegetarian (retired now) have also made me weary of meat and the fluids that ride along in its’ packaging. Food borne illness and bacteria are particular concerns of mine, so how could I keep this germ-ridden animal flesh separate and safe from the rest of my groceries without those single-use plastic bags? I came up with two solutions. The first, just re-use them. You could wash them out with scalding hot water and hang them to dry, thus having them ready for the next time you go to the store. This seems easy enough, but I live with my in-laws and they aren’t too into the “clutter” that my hippie house projects amass (think milk and yogurt glass “bottle deposit” recycling on the counter and cloth diaper cleaning supplies all over the bathroom) so… they would most definitely not tolerate a bunch of wet single-use plastic bags sunning themselves all over the kitchen. I needed another solution. You could have one of those insulated, zipping re-usable bags to use strictly for raw meat. When you brought in the groceries from the store, you could put the meat away and then wash out the bag with soap and hot water and there you have it. Easy, quick, cheap. I have one of those Sachi Insulated Market Totes. They run about $5 a piece, and they come in really stylish prints. I have been using mine for over a year and it shows no signs of wear. Problem solved.
If you happen to live in one of the places that already has laws against plastic bags, then perhaps this is all old news to you. There are a growing number of municipalities that are banning them… I can’t imagine what’s taking the others so long to follow suit. It is well documented what a disastrous impact single-use plastic bags are having on our environment. Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags back in 2002, after studies found that plastic bags and other pollution had been largely to blame for the flooding they experienced in 1988 and 1998. Other countries such as England, Mexico, Burma, India, Rwanda and Australia all have cities that have outright banned plastic bags. The U.S. is pretty far behind the rest of the world when it comes to curtailing our bag consumption. It is estimated that we use about 380 billion plastic bags a year in the U.S., with the average time of use being around 20 minutes per bag. Surfrider.org has a wonderfully detailed list of places in the U.S. and other parts of the world that have banned or taxed single-use plastic bags, along with a lot of other information about plastic pollution and how you could get more involved.
Sooo… here come the excuses. They truly are like a**holes. Everyone has one. Let’s take a stab at putting some of them to rest.
“I have re-usable bags, but I can’t remember to bring them with me.” This is the most common excuse that I hear. My usually environmentally allied friends
sheepishly offer up this excuse often. In fact, just the other day my good friend posted on Facebook a picture of all the Farmer’s Market produce she had purchased
along with the tiny paper bag that the vendor had given to her and the caption “I will even hold my veggies in my arms like a baby after being bag-shamed at the farmers market.” Bag shamed is right. What the hell were you doing at the Farmer’s Market in Berkeley (of all places!) without a reusable bag? If you are the kind of person that often forgets bags, maybe you should try getting some of those little bags that fold up all tiny and fit inside your purse so that you always have one handy – just in case. Chicobag makes a great one, they are a little on the pricey side ($20 for 4), Mato and Hash make nearly identical ones for $1 apiece. I got mine at Daiso (along with some mesh bags) for $1.50 apiece. I bought a bunch and give them to my poser hippie friends. I have been using them almost daily for over a year and they have held up nicely.
“I left my bags in the car.” The most obvious response would be to park your shopping cart by the front door or over by customer service and run out and grab your bags. Not such a big deal. If you really can’t spare the energy or time, then just load your cart back up with everything sans bags, wheel the cart out to the car and load the bags in the parking lot. For me, I try to remember before I even get to the store. When I am getting ready to leave, I go to my trunk and pull out the bags and put them in the front seat along with my purse so I will be sure to remember them when I get to the store.
“I don’t want to look like a dirty hippie carrying around recycled bags.” Those days are long gone now. There are many different patterns, prints and styles of re-usable bags on the market these days. You could intentionally buy ones that make you look like a dirty hippie – like EcoBags or some plain jute totes… that’s your prerogative. You can just as easily check out some designs by Tapp Collections or Baggu or any of the million Etsy shops out there, where you can surely find something to suit your design aesthetic. You will be the talk of the grocery store. People will stop and ask you “Where did you get that dashing re-usable bag?” Seriously. They will.
“One bag isn’t going to make that big of a difference.” Obviously ONE BAG isn’t the issue here. It’s the approximately 1 trillion non-biodegradable petroleum based single-use plastic bags accumulating in our earth’s oceans and landfills that are the issue. You are just adding fuel to a raging fire. Why not just stop? Take the step and personally do what you can to not contribute to this worldwide epidemic, and encourage those around you to follow suit. Every little bit adds up. Even if you used only 1 a week, that’s still about 52 bags a year. If you and your neighbor both use one a week, that’s 104 plastic bags sitting in landfills between the two of you. It adds up really quickly.
“I’m going to re-use it later anyway to put trash in.” a.k.a. – you are going to put it into a landfill at a later time, filled with other trash. This is a difficult one, as a trash bag seems like something that is impossible to replace with a re-usable item. My solution? Don’t use a trash bag. Get a smaller trash can that you can take out and dump in the large trash can outside once a day (or more if you have a lot of people living with you). It should be small enough to rinse out in the sink or bathtub daily so it doesn’t get gross and smelly.
I don’t expect everyone who reads this to run out and start using cloth diapers and composting their own food scraps. This is not a judgment on how “green” you are. This is just a reminder of a very simple step that we could all take daily that could really have a large impact on our environment. It is a small thing that we all should already be in the habit of, and it’s an important thing to pass on to our children.Even those of us who already think we are super earth savvy… there are always more ways we can green our routine. I hope you take from this a positive message of change, and next time… remember those re-usable bags in your trunk.