Helping the Earth – one plastic bag at a time

Plastic. A great invention in some ways; in others, it’s a horror show. Yes, plastic is convenient, a lifesaver (literally), and cheap. But most plastic isn’t biodegradable or recyclable; it is piling up in the oceans and in our landfills and creating a hazard for wildlife.

Giving up plastic is difficult, probably impossible for many people. But, cutting back on how much we use it, or how often? That is POSSIBLE for everyone. We just have to think ahead and get creative.

Like the grocery store that I use. I walked in the other day, did my shopping, and went to the check-out lane. The cashier asked me, “Bags or boxes?”

I stared at her, sure I misheard. Then the bagger at the end of the lane waved an empty cardboard box in the air. On its side read Charmin.

I was immediately impressed. “Boxes, please.”

Normally, a week’s worth of grocery shopping requires 15-20 plastic bags to pack all my purchases.

This time?

3 large cardboard boxes.

Using boxes instead of plastic at grocery stores.

They could have used small/medium boxes if I’d wanted. They didn’t ask. Kind of like how they no longer card me. I guess it’s readily apparent that I am over 30 and fit. I’ll take half of it as a compliment.

I love this option. I love how my grocery store is taking steps to recycle. I love how they are cutting back on those plastic bags, a menace to the environment.

Granted, such plastic bags can be used more than once – I use my surplus as packing material to store anything fragile such as Christmas ornaments or crystal; line the wastebaskets; and pick up dog poop.

But, I can’t use them up fast enough – because it seems every shop and store uses plastic bags to pack customers’ purchases.

plastic bags are a menace to the environmentAnd, they’re not biodegradable. Once you’ve used them once or twice and throw them away — they just sit on our land or in our water and hurt wildlife.

We can do better.

Cutting back on grocery store plastic bags seems like such a small step when you consider how much the world revolves around plastic. But think about the fact I saved the environment 15-20 plastic bags from just this grocery trip alone! You have to appreciate how many plastic bags would never end up in the landfill if we all took this one, or similar, step when we go shopping.

For me, it was eye-opening, and I’m usually quite conscientious about how I treat the environment. Now that I’ve seen what a difference 3 boxes can make, I’m aware of how much more I still can do.

  • Ask your local grocer or any shop you use if they have bags you can purchase for repeated use. (Many sell their own reusable bags that sport their logos.)

  • Ask for a box or a brown paper bag instead of plastic.

 

  • If you can’t avoid using plastic bags, see if the store that supplies them will take them back to use for other customers.

  • Got extra plastic bags lying around your house? See if your local schools, churches, community centers, or libraries have any need for them.

 

What do you do with your plastic bags?

 

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57 thoughts on “Helping the Earth – one plastic bag at a time

  1. So glad you did a post about plastic bags, Kate. It’s such a small lifestyle choice to make to help lower our negative impact on the environment.

    We’ve had bags for life for the last few years, so whenever we do a main shop we take them with us, but it’s clear that stores need to do more also, so hats off to yours. I’ve known store assistants offer me a bag when I’ve bought one or two items, which is not only absurd but irresponsible. I’d also add plastic bottles to that. I try and avoid them whenever I can.

    Not many people are aware that plastic is making its way into the food chain through marine species mistaking plastic nurdles for phytoplankton, so chances are, if you’re a big fish eater, you’ve probably ingested some of those discarded plastic bags you’ve thrown away in the past – now there’s food for thought!

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    • Those plastic bags are such a nuisance. I remember when businesses switched from paper to plastic, and it was all the rage because they were easier to carry, and you could carry more bags at a time. I really think that convenience is a hard habit to break. Once we find something that makes our lives easier, we don’t want to give it up, no matter how negative the impact.

      Thanks for the added info about marine life ingesting plastic. That’s important to note.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I love seeing people show up at the checkout lanes with their canvas bags. I have some of those bags, too, and I use them for light shopping. But, I need to use them more often.

      The pile of bags I’m accumulating is horrendous. I refuse to throw them away until I can at least find another use for them. But, I think what really needs to happen is to simply avoid them altogether. When businesses do their part, then it’s a much easier solution.

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    • Boxes are a fantastic idea, also because the supermarkets accumulate so many from deliveries. I’m sure it helps them keep their box piles down when they use them to pack groceries. I really hope a lot of customers take advantage of the box option, or at least, use their own canvas bags.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My grocery store hasn’t offered boxes yet, but I bring my own reusable bags. I have some for Target, too. They’re nice and big which is good because I always buy more than I planned at that store. 🙂

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    • Hooray that you bring your own reusable bags. Lately, I see more and more people doing that. It’s really a matter of thinking ahead and keeping the bags in your car at all times. I have the red Target bag too, and I agree with you on the benefit of how roomy they are. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We use the re-usable bags that are offered in most shops here now whenever we go shopping. We just keep them in the boot of the car so we don’t forget to take them!

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  4. I did a post about this very thing after our trip to Belize and seeing plastic of all kinds washed up on the shore and floating around us while snorkeling. Thanks for reminding us all to “Just say no to plastic!”

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    • I remember that post, Robin. It’s frightening and frustrating to see how much people don’t think or care about what they do. I’m sure a thought goes through their minds that rings something like, “Heck, it’s just one plastic bag. That’s not going to hurt anything.” But, we’re all rationalizing that “one” plastic bag, and that’s why we’re in a world of hurt.

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  5. They usually line the small trash containers in our bathrooms. But I don’t have much of a stash anymore! So many shops in our neck of the woods use boxes, paper or bring your own bag. I have reusable bags in my trunk, in the foyer, hanging on door knobs…they’re taking over! 🙂

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  6. Online supermarket shopping is a big thing here (I don’t think it is so much there?), and most of the supermarkets will give you the option of having your groceries delivered without bags, so they just bring it in crates and you unload from the crates straight into your kitchen and they take the crates away. Also, in store, some supermarkets offer a bit of money off your shopping for each bag that you use of your own rather than using one of theirs – we’re only talking a few pence per bag, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

    Like you, I have a mountain of plastic bags and I can never bring myself to just throw them away, so I find other uses for them – liners for small trash cans in the house, and like I saw you say in one comment, packing up delicate Christmas decorations etc, but I too must learn to cut back more on their use!

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    • Online supermarket shopping hasn’t taken off here, at least, not in my neck of the woods. I’m sure it will soon, though, with gas prices being what they are! I’m happy to hear about the use of crates — that’s a huge step in the right direction. And, I love the idea of discounting purchases when customers use their own bags. These are responsible choices that businesses make, and would compel me to continue shopping in their stores.

      Plastic bags do come in handy for packing up fragile items — better than those pesky Styrofoam pellets, which also need to be banned! Although, I have run into the pellets that are biodegradable and melt in water in just seconds. Now, those are very cool!

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  7. My mother-in-law sent me a bunch of Disney reusable bags. I’ve been using those, and I also get a bag credit from the grocery store. It’s not much, only $.03 a bag, but hey, if I use 10 that’s still $.30. LOL. Online shopping isn’t big where I live, but reading about them bringing it and unloading it sounds amazing. I would love it if I didn’t have to go to the store anymore.

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    • I have a few of those Disney reusable bags myself! They’re often on sale through the Disney store at around 1 or 2 dollars, which is a fantastic buy. I think the bag credit is a great incentive, because you’ll shop more often at that store and the savings will add up. I think I could get used to online grocery shopping. As it is I go to the market at 7am just to avoid the crowd. Imagine the luxury of never having to deal with indecisive people blocking aisles! 🙂

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  8. Well reminded, Kate. There are so many issues in society just now that need fixing that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. However, your post underscores the old saying, “By the inch it’s a cinch; by the yard it’s hard!”

    In other words, every small step that we individuals take is making a difference. We must never lost sight of that fact for it is so easy not to bother.

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    • You’re right, Paul. It would be nice if we could don our superhero suits and save the world with each blog post 😉 but I think for many of us, we have to choose our battles. This fight in particular is fairly easy for even one person to make a difference. If we choose every day to do something that is good for the earth, then I say we’re on the right track.

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  9. The grocery stores around here have recycle bins for plastic bags but I stopped using them anyway. The reusable fabric bags are much easier to deal with and they can fit more in them. Some towns are trying to outlaw plastic bags and that makes sense to me. We did without plastic for a long time before it came along. We can do it again (or maybe I’m just dreaming like usual)! 🙂

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    • Yes, some stores have bins to recycle bags, but I’m a failure at using them. I keep forgetting to bring my pile in! However, after having seen the box option and written this post and heard from you guys – I am going to try harder to not use any more of those bags. Enough is enough!

      I love the idea of outlawing them. I hope it passes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes I’d forget to bring those bags too, then I started putting them back in the car after emptying them out so that they’re always there waiting for the next last-minute grocery run. 🙂

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  10. Our old county instituted a 5-cent charge per store-provided plastic bag as a way to encourage people to bring their own. For years, we’ve used our own bags for shopping, and it’s now common to hear cashiers in many stores asking, “Would you like a bag?” when making small purchases. We say, “no thank you” whenever possible. Just this weekend we did that when buying a replacement light bulb and pack of rechargeable batteries. When you stop to think about it, who really needs a bag to carry those to the car?

    I haven’t seen the box option yet, but that’s another great alternative to those plastic bags!

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    • I know. Cashiers have asked me if I want my gallons of milk and orange juice bagged, and I always say no because it is so silly. I also hate it when they wrap meat and cleaning products separately so as not to “contaminate” the other food. Really? Who came up with that idea? Unless the food is clearly leaking, I see no point. Just throw it in a paper bag if it’s really that much of a risk.

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  11. Thank you for this! Great post. Gregor and I recently watched a documentary (Inside Man) on what happens to our plastic; it was so appalling – and eye-opening. Half of New York is just sitting on non-biodegradable garbage. LOVE that your store (Market Basket?) gave you an option. I need to do better; half the time I forget my own bags in the trunk and am too lazy go back out and get them. In addition, for so long I needed(?) them for diapers 🙂 Now I just like to have them to line small garbage cans in bathrooms. Still, you’re right. We can do better. We HAVE to do better. Thanks for a great post.

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  12. Yes, it’s Market Basket. I’m happy they decided to do this. I’m sure some people bring in their own bags, but not enough. We do need to line our garbage cans with bags, so I can understand using these particular bags for that job. But, I have to admit even that isn’t okay, because they still end up in the ocean or harming animals. I think I need to go back to lining my wastebaskets with paper bags. That’s how we did it when I was growing up, and it worked just fine!

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  13. Oh yeah, we live in San Francisco. We’ve been plastic free for awhile now at the grocery store. And if you do ask for a bag, it’s usually paper and charged 10cents per bag. Lots of restaurants are trying to use the best bio-friendly take-out containers as well. And you’re encouraged to take your own to-go cup to the coffee shop. Things are getting better! I highly recommend “Plastic Ahoy!” by Patricia Newman. It’s a fabulous kids’ book about the plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean. Patricia spoke at the recent SCBWI Bay Area South regional meeting in Monterey, CA. I bought her book after her presentation. Check it out!

    http://www.amazon.com/Plastic-Ahoy-Investigating-Pacific-Nonfiction/dp/1467712833

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    • Thank you so much for the book recommendation. I will definitely look for that. I hope they have it in my local library, but if they don’t I’ll request it!

      Sounds like SF is making some positive changes. That’s great to hear.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve never heard of a store that offers boxes, how clever! I’m slowly trying to use less and less plastic and in doing so have noticed how it is just everywhere.

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  15. A topic to my heart. Coming from Europe, where we have much stricter rules of waste management and more advanced recycling programs I must say it shocked me a bit at how much plastic still is still being used over here. Surely, some grocery stores put up “awareness” signs of bringing your own bags but in the end most people go on using plastic bags – not to mention the wastefulness of unproductive packing!
    I have a very nice old fashioned sturdy and strong basket/tote bag (receiving lots of compliments) and some other bags and boxes that I take for shopping. I even reuse the small plastic bags to put the vegetables in. Sometimes, I can’t help to ‘educate’ employees about it 😉 When I was still living in Mass. I suggested to make the cardboard inventory boxes available for customers to reuse, and I even brought my egg boxes back to the farmer to recycle. It was much appreciated. Small acts but big impacts. 🙂

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    • I’ve heard that Europe is much better about waste management. This culture is so used to living to excess, that I am actually not surprised we’re behind the 8 ball on this one. Oh, you’re so right about the unproductive packing — I can’t stand it when they use one bag for one item that supposedly needs to be separated from the rest of the items, like cleaning products or meat. I’m thinking to myself, all of it was commingled in my cart before I came to the check-out lane, why are we worrying about it now???

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  16. I like how your grocery store thought outside the box with the boxes. 🙂 We also reuse the plastic bags for smaller garbage around the house/ dog pooh when we get them from stores.

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    • Haha! Yes, I’m glad, too. It’s important to take small steps that will create a chain reaction. Businesses really need to set an example, not to mention make it easy for consumers to follow suit. If we’re constantly offered the convenience of plastic bagging, then we’re going to take it.

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  17. What an awesome surprise! I love the box tactic.

    We have used our own totes for going on 10 years. I learned to use them while studying abroad in Germany, because they didn’t have any bags at the grocery store. None. You had to bring totes, or buy one.

    When we first moved to Portland, I was laughed at when I said, “Paper, please.” Hey, I went my whole life with the paper or plastic question. Then I found out about the plastic bag ban here, and I fell in love with Portland all over again.

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    • That’s so awesome that Portland has banned plastic bags. I don’t think I knew that. I hope their wisdom catches on!

      I’m also liking Germany’s way of forcing people to bring their own totes. If stores aren’t providing the bags, then I bet customers learn really fast to bring their own!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Excellent point! There are a few cities around me, here in WA who do not allow plastic bags for store check outs anymore. If you forget your own bags, they will sell you a paper bag for a nickel each. At first it’s a bit of a shock to get used to. But I actually like my fabric bags better: they are stronger, hold more, and a very cool looking. My husband tells me his grandmother would take the plastic bags and make small braided rugs out of them for just inside the door of the house. Apparently they lasted forever. A while ago, I saw an article on Facebook about an invention where you put plastic objects into this thing, and it converts it back to oil. Looked absolutely amazing. I have no idea if it was real or not, but I can just imagine the cleanup it could create.

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    • Braided plastic rugs! You’re kidding me. That’s a great idea, and I’m not surprised they lasted forever. 😉 I heard the same thing about converting plastic to oil, but don’t know any more about it. I’ll have to look into that to see if it’s worth the hassle. And the mess!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. We still use too many plastic bags here in the UK, but most shops now ask if you want a bag rather than just giving you one and some have started charging for them to try to encourage people not to. I get my shopping delivered – I can choose to have it delivered with or without bags and if I have any excess, I can give them to the driver to be re-used.

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    • Someone else commented that with deliveries available in the UK the use of plastic bags has decreased. And it seems that multiple places are charging people for plastic bags. I bet the charging would be the most effective method as no one would put up with that for very long!

      I think it’s wonderful how people are thinking up different ways to cut back on those bags. I hope these ideas catch on across the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I admit to being an offender, but I justify it with the fact that I recycle the plastic bags into other stuff. Really, there’s no justification. It’s time for chance, and it’s been long past time for it. Thank you for the post, and for the reminder.

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    • Cayman, I was like you for a long time. Thinking that if I re-used the plastic bags I’m not doing as much harm. Unfortunately, the time has come where that’s not enough anymore because sooo many people don’t bother to re-use them nor cut back on using them. Now that we have so many other options available, I think it can be easy enough to stop using those particular bags altogether.

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  21. Here in Toronto, the stores started charging 5 cents for a plastic bag, or no bag, unless we bring our own. I have several canvas bags I keep in my car to take with me when grocery shopping. 🙂

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  22. In Australia supermarkets began offering long-use “Calico” bags for shoppers to discourage the use of plastic along time ago. I believe some states (not Victoria) have actually banned their use.

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  23. Pingback: Happy Endangered Species Day | 4am Writer

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