The other day I watched a white plastic bag lazily float through the air as I was waiting at a stop light. It has an odd sort of beauty in the grace with which it moves. The wind catches in little pockets and it inflates, then as the wind shifts it flattens and picks up speed. Bits of it get caught on fence posts, branches and car antennae causing it to cartwheel as it makes its way to whatever destination it is fated to reach. Then I snapped out of my reverie and realized what a terrible crime this bag represents.
It’s a mystery to me why people continue to choose plastic bags at the store when they accumulate at home faster than second uses can be developed for them. Not to mention their tendency to blow away, as mentioned, creating litter, or the fact that they hold relatively few items for their size. Whatever the reason, they continue to be used by the general public.
Did you know that according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), close to a trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each years? The United States alone used about one hundred billion of those, which comes out to almost one thousand plastic bags per U.S. household per year. If one household cuts out plastic bags, this could actually make a noticeable dent.
It takes twelve million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bags the U.S. alone uses each years and fewer than 3 percent are recycled. This means they wind up in landfills where they can take hundreds of years to decompose. Or they end up in rivers and oceans where they choke and poison about one hundred thousand whales, birds, and other aquatic life each year, or act as rafts carrying foreign species to new ecosystems.
I once thought paper bags were more environmentally-friendly-ish because they are biodegradable. Nope. Making ten billion paper bags (about the number of grocery bags United Statesians use in a year) requires fourteen million trees to be cut down because they require virgin fibers to hold up to heavy groceries. On top of that, pulp and paper mills are among the worst polluters of air, water and land of any manufacturing industry.
There is a hidden option, it’s like the elusive third door that no one tells you about but really has the best prizes if you just take a wild stab and guess it. Reusable cloth bags! By far the best solution to the bag crisis in the US.
The tough part is remembering to bring them with you. Practice makes perfect so keep trying. Here are some techniques you might want to try:
- Doorknob – Attach at least one, if not more than one, reusable shopping bag to the doorknob you most often leave through. You have to literally touch them in order to get out of the house.
- Car – Designate a box in your car to store a few reusable bags. Now you only have to remember to get them into the store.
- Purse – There are many options of reusable bags which are small enough to stick in your purse or pocket. There’s no excuse for not using it if you’ve been carrying it around with you.
- Make a note – Stick a note anywhere you’re likely to see it –on the mirror, on your dashboard, on your forehead– to remind yourself.
- All of the above – If you’re like me then you’ve probably accumulated dozens of reusable bags at festivals, fairs and events. I keep my bags anywhere and everywhere.
As an added incentive many places across the US either give to a discount for using your own bags or expect you to pay for the store’s plastic or paper bags you use. So if being a Earth-saving superhero isn’t enough, maybe money will convince you.
How do you remember your reusable bags when shopping?