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Plastic Bags: The Final Chapter

Plastic Bags: The Final Chapter

While I have enjoyed this little series on plastic bags, I must say I am truly tired of talking about them and am eagerly anticipating the day when I have to explain to my daughters that there once was a time when stores gave away billions of plastic bags that then ended up leaching into some landfill or floating out to sea. I can just hear them now: “Sure Dad, whatever you say, hah, plastic bags!” Ahhh, to dream.

I had hoped to hear back from a number of folks on their progress, but I fear that the Internet is a fickle place, and the timing a bit off, so I did not receive many e-mails. Such is life, but I rest assured that many of you read the plastic posts and will take them to heart.

One intrepid reader, Sue, from merry ole England did send me an e-mail. She has been trying to go plastic bag-free for quite some time and ironically found that most grocers wouldn’t allow reusables since they lost out on the advertising their plastic bags offer them. I had honestly never thought of this aspect (I don’t think I’m your average advertising target to begin with), but it is a point to take to heart. That said, the stores pay for the plastic bags and give them away, right? This costs them money, right? With that in mind, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to sell reusables with their name on it and tell customers that they will accept these? Is this too simple? Am I missing something? If you can, Sue, offer up that thought to your local gorcers in a helpful way and let us know how they respond.

Since I have all this free space that I thought would be otherwise filled, I want to throw out a really cool idea that a Care2 member sent me that not only helps fix the plastic bag problem, but also connects local communities and helps to reuse other items. Sheila from The Isle of Wight England (cool name, huh?) wrote me about something called Morsbags that she is involved with.

Morsbags are an international phenomenon. Local groups get together and make reusable cloth bags out of old shirts, leftover drapes, sheets, whatever they have, and then give them away to locals so that they can kick the plastic bag habit. How amazing is that? They give you all the info you need and have even set up groups that you can join or tell you how to start your own.

Sheila told me that since they began her local group, they have given away more than 1,500 bags to people in her town and they now see them all over the place. The thing that I love about this is that it not only offers a very concrete solution to a mounting problem, but in doing so it helps to create community bonds, and even more importantly, shows everyday folks that they can lead by example and show others a better way. It’s really great and I highly recommend that you check it out and get on board with a local chapter, or if you don’t have one, start your own!

Finally, for all those bags that are presently out there, there is a ray of hope, and ironically it comes not from some big corporation but from
a 16-year-old student who looked at the problem and thought “there’s got to be a way to deal with all of this.” Daniel Burd from up in Canada was tired of looking at all the plastic bags choking the closet and decided to do something about it. So he set about doing some experiments at home and discovered a microorganism that helps break down plastic faster. For his efforts he won the top prize at the Canada Wide Science Fair and some cash and a scholarship to go along with it.

While Daniel’s discovery is great and much needed, we shouldn’t think it is the answer though. There are already too many bags out there to deal with and more coming every minute. Scientists like him will be necessary to clean up the mess that we created, but first, we as individuals need to take matters into our own hands and make them obsolete.

The age of disposable plastics is over.

Live sustainably.

Dave Chameides is an environmental educator and freelance filmmaker. He writes alternative fuel articles for 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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Dave Chameides

Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. "Give people the facts, and they'll choose to do the right thing."


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6:35PM PDT on Oct 28, 2008

Try that for the Furoshiki video and if that doesn't work, head to and click on video on the right hand side - or just search on the blog for Furoshiki.

Ahhh technology.

6:35PM PDT on Oct 28, 2008

Of course there is the other way of looking at it....... each buried plastic bag takes carbon out of the cycle and locks it in a landfill……. Now if they could only get the carbon for the plastic bag from the atmosphere we could create the perfect carbon sink……..

8:50AM PDT on Sep 5, 2008

My daughter and I bought some cotton bags for produce and other bulk food items. She found them online and they work very well. While they might add a gram or two to the weight of your produce (you could, of course, put your tomatoes into the bag after they're weighed), the benefit is you can store the food in them at home. I have found them to be great for storing tomatoes which I never refrigerate to avoid the "off taste."

7:37AM PDT on Sep 5, 2008

I lived in England for a few years, and they DO have reusable bags available for a few pence at all major grocery stores. The bags are large, decorative and really strong. Shame they are plastic not cloth, but they have made a difference to the waste in England I am sure.

About the bulk-food bag issue, I just take the clean ones back to the stores and reuse them for bulk foods, fruit, or veggies. I keep them in the reusable grocery bags I take with me and no one seems to mind at all. ;-)

7:30AM PDT on Sep 2, 2008

Oh, yes. When I forget bags, I have them put back into the cart and just put them back of the car (sadly I'm not local enough to do it another way than the car, but luckily it's at least a greener one). I keep a blanket in the car that I can wrap groceries in, a box might work too. But when I'm done with my bags, the lugging of groceries inside, I put them in front of the door so they'll be spotted the next time I go to the car. I, too, made bags for people for Christmas out of odds & ends bolt materials that wouldn't be good for much else. I found a store that sells them by the pound and gives the proceeds to women in 3rd world countries to help them start businesses. Everyone tells me they're always getting compliments on them. Yes, this can easily be done with used draperies etc too, and given away. But it's also a nice gift, I at least think.

7:24AM PDT on Sep 2, 2008

I've heard that paper bags actually end up using more oil product in the long run than plastic. This is because of not only their production, but their distribution because they are heavier. As for doggy and liners, there are companies which make recycled, degradable, and veggie based ones. The downside with this is that those still emit gases which are harmful, so they're still not good, but they're a step up from just plain plastic. What I'm trying to point out by this is that you should use those when you absolutely need to, but do try to still avoid it if possible. Not all trash companies refuse bin pickup without liners, most here have a truck that picks it up and dumps it in back, so those of you who can avoid liners, please consider doing so. As for kitty clean up, I quit buying liners and I scoop the poop, and litter when it's ready, into used cat food and litter bags. I then close the bag w/a band or tie. As for the kid w/the great idea discovery of degrading plastics sooner, I really want to commend, so I hope I don't sound the opposite. But my concern is that when plastics do degrade, they emit MORE harmful gasses. Would speeding up this process really be a good thing? Even if so, do we now know how long it takes for one to degrade? When I looked into it, the time was unknown, because plastics are too young, but estimated from 20-1,000 years. Do we know how long? And how much quicker does his method speed things up?

8:57AM PDT on Sep 1, 2008

Check out my article before last and you'll see I talk about biobags as an option.

Do you mean that if you brought cloth bags they wouldn't let you use them? What if you brought their plastic bags back next time you come? If I were you, I'd ask to speak to the manager and write a very nice letter to the head of the company pointing out the money saving aspects of you bringing your own.

What about staging a boycott? Have everyone bring their bags back en masse one day?

8:48AM PDT on Sep 1, 2008

I'd like to know if anyone has a solution for plastic bag use in lining garbage cans, using them for cat litter box waste and carrying along to clean up pup poop! I suppose paper bags could be substituted for the litter and poop, but our sanitation workers will not take a loose can of raw garbage and personally I don't blame them. The smell would be unbearable and unhealthy for them to handle and animals would get into and tumble the cans. Couldn't something biodegradable be developed for the trash can liners to avoid a possible disease situation of loose garbage. Appreciate any suggestions.

8:34AM PDT on Sep 1, 2008

We are in Prince Edward Island, Canada where there is a very aggressive recycling program. It basically, takes up a whole closet in our kitchen! What is a little annoying is when we shop at one of the bulk goods stores, we HAVE to bag everything in a plastic bag. On the one hand the concept in the store is to reduce packaging waste, but then we drag home anywhere from 5 to 10 plastic bags that we've shoveled our bulk goods into....seems to be a bit of a contradiction here. Any suggestions we could offer to them to reduce or get rid of the plastic bags?

4:12PM PDT on Aug 31, 2008

Claire Cooke,
Thank you so much for your post. If you can deal with cloth bags it just goes to show that anyone else who says that they are a pain has nothing to talk about.

Sue, you were wondering what my thoughts were on degradable bags. I always like to tell people that there are really no simple answers on these things. I think that anything that actually will degrade is better than plastic, but that cloth bags that will last years and years are always going to be better than anything that is made to be disposed of. You are right that there are many different types of degradables and one that is photodegradable that ends up at the bottom of a landfill will do nothing. In the grand scheme of things, corn is a good substitute for plastic for now, but food should be eaten, period. As long as there are hungry people in the world, crops should feed them and we should figure out other ways to drive, carry things, etc.
No easy answers right, but keep asking the questions, that is key in my opinion.

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