Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Skip the Plastic! Let's Talk Reusable Cloth Bags . . .

It's a funny thing about Americans. We expect free paper or plastic bags to carry home whatever we buy at a store. And the thing is, both kinds of bags are a terrible waste of resources. So here's an Easy Green Thing to Do: Bring Your Own Cloth (or string) Bags.

Sounds simple minded, but take a look at the counter in the right-hand column. According to the folks at www.reusablebags.com, that is the number of plastic bags that have been used, and mostly tossed into the landfill or allowed to destroy marine environments, so far this year.

That's a lot. And the number is getting bigger. If you have 6-8 plastic bags from grocery shopping today, and another of two or three from other stores, and one for the thingmabobber from the hardware store and and and -- well it adds up!

Three reasons to bring your own reusable cloth bags:

1. Plastic bags are mostly made from oil. The folks at MidAmerica Energy explain this in detail here or by clicking their picture, above. The fewer plastic bags we use the less we need oil from the Middle East, the less fossil fuel pollution we create, and the less energy we use manufacturing and transporting the darn things in the first place.

2. Some plastic shopping bags can be recycled. Most are not. Less than 10% of plastic bags are currently recycled. Some city trash collections, even though they accepted numbered plastics, do not do plastic shopping bags.

3. Plastic ends up in the landfill, and does not decompose (paper can be recycled and does decompose. Cloth can be reused thousands of times). It is also a notorious killer of marine animals, being washed down the storm drains and into the oceans.

Dealing With The Would-Buts

I would use cloth bags, but:

. . . I don't have any reusable bags. Many stores sell them cheaply now. An early pioneer was Trader Joe's, which has sold its (now larger and stronger) cloth shopping bags for many years. I am partial to the canvas bags, but there are many alternatives available at TJ's. We recently purchased a $4.99 insulated bag from TJ that handles all the cold stuff quite well if we have an extra stop on the way home. Ikea now sells it's store bags and is phasing out plastic; many reusables with cool art can be found at CafePress.com, including www.cafepress.com/walkstuff; and of course our good friends at www.reusablebags.com/ . For more ideas have a peak at the Bring Your Own blog.

. . . I don't want to buy $30 worth of bags. Don't. Buy one at a time. Each trip to the store, get one more new cloth bag. Soon you will have plenty of bags. NOTE: You will need fewer cloth bags than either paper or plastic, if you can carry them. Each bag is stronger and can hold more than either paper or trash-plastic. If you want lighter bags to carry, bring more bags.

. . . I can never remember to bring them. Simple: Leave a nest of 4 or 5 bags in the trunk of your car, or the bike trailer you use for groceries. Put them all inside of one and roll 'em up. When you empty the bags in the house after shopping, put them *right* back in the car. Then they are always handy.

Bringing shopping bags has gotten to be so easy, that we take our TJ bags -- and reusable bags we have received elsewhere -- in to shop just about everywhere now. It may just be *one* little plastic bag -- but take a look at that counter over there, spinning by, one little bag (your little bag!) at time.

By the by, the cloth-bag habit is a good one to start now. Several cities have banned plastic shopping bags outright, and many more are looking at the idea seriously.

A word of warning about reusable bags, though: Be sure to save some for shopping. They are so handy, and so easy to grab, that they get used for all sorts of transporting jobs -- and you can and that all your shopping bags are otherwise engaged!