By now you’ve hopefully read my previous piece on the problems with plastic bags and are ready to kick the habit. Thankfully your first step is going to be an easy one: Just say no. Now I know that seems a little bit simplistic, but you’ve got to start somewhere and the best place is to announce to yourself and to the world that you are never going to take another plastic bag again. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Stand up from your computer (or lie down if that makes you feel better) and say “I’m never going to take another plastic bag again.” Even better, pull a Network–open up your window and shout it out to the world (wouldn’t that be cool if that happened?).
Now that you’ve done that, the next step is to keep on reminding yourself that No Means No. What I mean to say is that as you start to retrain yourself, and that is what you will be doing, for the first week or so you will invariably walk out of the house without a re-usable bag. If you remind yourself that No Means No, then when you get to that checkout stand and realize you don’t have any bags, you’re either going to be putting things back, making a few trips to your bike or car, or, if you’re like me, looking pretty silly juggling all those boxes and bottles out of the store.
I’m not suggesting that this is going to become your normal routine from now on (“Mommy look, it’s the funny man who’s always dropping the eggs”), I’m just saying that if you agree that plastic bags are no longer an option, you’ll learn pretty quickly that a little pre-planning will go a long way. Before long, you won’t even realize you’re doing it.
Two weeks from now we’ll give this a trial run, but right now, your next step is to do some prep. For starters, you are going to need some reusable bags and your first stop will be around the house. If you are like me, over the years you have accumulated bags from vendors, fund-raisers, and all sorts of other places, and these work perfectly. Another option is to take an old T-shirt and sew it up into a bag like my friend Anna does. After all, why buy something new when you can reuse/repurpose something you already have?
If you find yourself in the position of not having any bags lying around, or, if you are like me and are a menace with a needle and thread, than you’ll want to buy a few bags–I’d suggest four to start. You can get them at pretty much any supermarket these days and they generally are around 99 cents a piece (the 99 cents store sells them for that price as well) and on the Internet at places like Resuablebags.com.
Presently, many stores will give you back 5 cents per bag each time you bring them in, so not only will these pay for themselves, but they’ll make you money in the long run! I suspect that the 5 cent offer isn’t going to stick around for long, so the sooner you start, the better the return on your investment.
Once you’ve gotten your bags, the trick of course if to train yourself to remember them. While juggling eggs to the car will curb your habit rather quickly, we’d all rather avoid the scenario to begin with right? What works for me is to keep the bags hanging by the door in plain sight so that they are a constant reminder as you leave. Pretty soon, it’ll be second nature and you won’t leave home without them. Another idea is to always keep them on the back of your bike or in your car, again, making them accessible anytime you need.
I know you’re scratching your head and thinking “that’s it, that’s all he’s got?” and the answer is, “yep, cuz it’s really not that hard.” Believe me, if I can train myself to stop throwing things out training yourself to remember a bag should be easy.
Now that we’ve discussed ways around the bags we take out of the stores, let’s look at the even more annoying ones they have in the stores, specifically those thin little baggies that fruits and veggies come home in. These are really horrible because they are so flimsy that they are not even reusable and barely recyclable. Here’s a few ways around them. Right off the bat, recognize that not everything needs its own bag. Is it really a problem for apples to touch something other than apples? Pears? How about melon? So many things in the produce aisle don’t need bags that saying no cuts a large number out right off the bat.
For those things that do need a holder–think mushrooms, grapes, brussel sprouts, nuts–we use these great little mesh bags. They are a little heftier in price, but these things really work well, you still get 5 cents back for bringing your own bag so they will pay for themselves, and they even have their weight printed on the tag so the excess can be deducted. How cool is that? And back to the beginning of this post, if you are a handy seamstress, old T-shirts sewn up at the neck and sleeves work great and cost you nothing.
The one final plastic bag hurdle I’ll tackle is kitchen garbage bags. This is a tougher one as there is no “pays for itself, less hassle solution” that I know of, so you’re going to have to make some choices. My first thought would be to get yourself a worm composter and start composting all your food scraps. With food out of the way, you won’t really have anything icky going in the can, so no need for a bag.
Now if worms aren’t your bag (I know, I’m terrible) than check out plastic alternatives like Bio-Bags. These are made from corn (other companies sell bags made from starch) and are completely compostable and biodegradable. They make dog poop bags as well. They are a tad expensive but have come down since their introduction so my hope is that they will continue to do so. Even so, if you feel you need a plastic kitchen bag but recognize the problem that they create, this option offers you a responsible choice.
These are just a few of the solutions that I’ve found useful, but the reality is it’s more about changing your routine than there being a “silver bullet” to the problem. Once you’ve made the choice to step out of the problem, the solutions will become ever more apparent. Hopefully at the end of the month, you’ll all take the No Plastic Bag challenge and we can share stories on how easy or hard it was and what you learned along the way. In the meantime, get yourself some reusables and use the next week or so to start practicing. And as always, if you’ve got other tips that help you out, let us know.
Now that you’re not part of the problem, be part of the solution.
Dave Chameides is an environmental educator and freelance filmmaker. He writes alternative fuel articles for Edmunds.com and maintains the blogs 365 Days of Trash and Achieving Sustainability. While he is presently saving all of his trash for a year to better understand his environmental impact, his main focus is sustainability through education and believes that with knowledge all things are possible.
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Walking the Talk With Sustainable Dave