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!


Anonymous said...

roger, we are light years of the cloth bag movemnt over here in nyc, but i am trying to make it easier on the hipster set, by designing cool looking bags that are very practical for shopping (big but lightweight enought to fold up into nothing)check them out at www.minusbags.com. The shop will be up and running in a couple of weeks. They sell for $16. and most importantly, they're 100% made in the USA. no extra oil wasted in transport....

Anna said...

Great post, clearly near and dear to my heart....and thanks for referencing my blog. I'm adding you to my links as well.

Appreciate you correcting me about AB 2449 - I'd thought this prevented local municipalities from enacting a plastic bag bin....can you elaborate and set me straight? I'd love to follow up on this.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Another source of reusable bags is in the cupboard under the kitchen sink (or wherever else folks have stashed all those plastic bags they brough home before turning "green.") Plastic bags reused as bags is a much better use for them than plastic bags as landfill fodder.

I actually wrote a whole post on this yesterday:


And I think you're right about Brita's lame excuses.


Roger, Gone Green said...

Hi Anon; looking forward to the bag store . . . we've been doing Trader Joe's bags since the 70's around here, but the anti-plastic boom is on ... Anna: According to the CAW folks (who I sent a nasty email to and they replied pleasantly) the bill only limits the ability to impose a tax or fee on bags where there is compliance with the label and bin requirements. BUT it says NOTHING about a ban, and they have been enacted in the Bay Area SINCE the new law was passed. Stay tuned; this may be up before the Council in Pasadena soon.

Fish/Beth: Pasadena has all-number recycling, and what few bags we get become something else. . . and we do use SOME as "other stuff" bags. . . but most plastic bags these days are so flimsy they often don't make it from the bike trailer to the house without shredding, or are sued to hold on, or at most two(!) items.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're using canvas bags. We too have a whole bunch that my s.o. picked up at a Critical Mass thingy. For some reason, bicycle organizations like to give them out too.

(Isn't it ironic that I'm afraid of bikes, yet I'm married to someone who has 3 of them?)

I wonder what your plastic bags become when they are recycled.

Kate said...

I got a great Riesenthel bag (looks like this one) at the Container Store for about $8. It folds into a small/medium sized keychain pouch and I keep it with me at all times -- the urge to buy groceries between the subway and home strikes me several times a week. I've also started keeping a wadded up plastic bag in case my shopping overflows from the first (very strong, ripstop) bag.

Beth was right -- I think people forget bags can be reused as bags, or are too embarrassed, but once you get over that hurdle, they work well and are so compact that they are easy to carry with you. Easier than canvas bags, anyway, for carrying on a daily basis. (My parents leave canvas bags in their cars but I live in a city and don't drive anymore.)

Cloth bags and bags made from recycled plastic bottles are excellent, and the great news for me is that they can be purchased at most any Canadian supermarket for about $1 (of course, my partner keeps telling me I already have enough bags!).

Ricardo Bueno said...

Hey Roger,

I have to admit that this is new to me. We go through a lot of plastic bags and you're right...they're not great for the environment.

I'm willing to contribute!

I shop at Trader Joe's so I'll give in and get my own cloth bag. I might be a tad, wee bit embarrassed at first so I'll have my significant other carry it for me to start :)

Roger, Gone Green said...

Kate: Thanks for the hint about the key-chain bag . . . it's pretty cool . . . I am not especially happy about the plastic multiuse bags . . . They are better than the flimsies, of course, as do not go into the landfill at such a prodigious rate . . . but I really like something that I could toss on my compost, or know will rot away in time . . . thus cotton or hemp canvas or string get my vote for now . . . When we do get plastic "one-use" bags we do try to reuse them -- but I find they have been getting thinner of late and aren't much good after one use . . . plus the whole compost bit . .

Ricardo: TJ's is a great place to start the switch. They have encouraged it for years, and there is nothing weird about tossing your bags in the basket on the way in.

Last summer, when we kept running out of bags or leaving them at home, we bought a couple of TJ bags each shopping trip until we had enough for a set for the car (sigh) and one for the house (to use on the bike, and for misc. things they tend to get nabbed for) . . .

Trader Joe's will enter you in a drawing for bringing yor own bags . . . once you are really into, have a little fun and take your cloth bags to an ordinary store . . . I have had the checker put stuff in the plastic and put the plastic in the cloth bags(!)

Good chance for a little education (grin).


Delta said...

Roger, as a fellow progressive would you mind giving your opinion on a strategy that I've been tossing around in my head for the progressive movement?

It's over at my blog if you have time.


Anonymous said...

Got fabulous green bags at PUBLIX Supermarket $2.99 www.greenbag.info

Jill Davis Doughtie said...

Happy Thanksgiving!

carrie said...

I love cloth bags, and they can be fashionable as well as functional. I sell some on etsy.com, as do many people. Check there for fun bags from recycled vintage drapes. Green can be easy, fun, and fashionable.

wendy said...

IKEA now sells huge reusable bags for $0.59. Anyone can afford a reusable bag at that price!

Anonymous said...

im not eighteen years old or anything but I am sure that if we dont stop throwing our trash in the water the turtle population is going to decrease and so is the dolphin population and I LOVE DOLPHINS. SO EVERYBODY HELP THE ANIMALS SURVIVE,PLEASE!!!!

Anonymous said...

I got some awesome reusable bags online. I wasn't satisfied with the heavier plastic ones they sell at our locals grocery stores. I got them at http:www.greenchicbagco.com.
They were affordable and what I like the most washable. Some of their bags have a liner and I use those for my produce and meats. I am not worried about the spillage from the meats because the liner stops the yuck from seeping into the fabric. I had forgotten a couple times to take them and felt ill having to use plastic. So now i leave 2 in my car.