Have you ever noticed just how many cheap plastic bags litter the roadways and hillsides? Dancing on the breeze like lonely birds looking for their flock or floating in a stream or gutter like a sad dead fish. I am constantly taking plastic garbage bags full of plastic shopping bags back to the grocery store to be recycled. After doing this for so long I actually got smart and purchased some customized, reusable shopping bags, in an effort to reduce my reliance on the dreaded plastic.
In this article I will attempt to illustrate one of those “little ways” that we can all take a small step to feel better by helping the planet and, ultimately, ourselves.
What are Reusable Shopping Bags
Reusable is just what it says; use more than once. Now your bags don’t have to be customized. Mine happen to be because I buy them from a site that gives part of the purchase price to animal shelters. This way I get to feel twice as good about “helping” (and the bags are super cute too!) There are lots of online sites that have great selections as well.
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Reusable bags are made from many diverse materials. They are strong and durable and usually bigger than the standard plastic shopping bag. This also makes it easier to bring the groceries infrom the car. Fewer trips back and forth. They can be made from recycled plastic, canvas, cotton cloth, bamboo, hemp – almost anything. You can even make your own! There are so many online tutorials. It’s great.
The Effects of Plastic Bags
Back in 1959 a clever fellow named Sten Thulin invented the plastic bag. His intent was to save the loss of trees used to make paper bags and his original plastic bag was meant to be used and reused again and again. Unfortunately, as is often the case, people got greedy and profits needed to be made, hence the introduction of the “single use” plastic bag.
Over 500 billion – yes BILLION – plastic bags are used worldwide today. Some accounts are higher than that. 100 billion of that number is used in the United States alone. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the average family takes home 1500 bags per year with only 1% of them finding their way to a recycling plant. The rest end up in land fills or along the country sides and coastlines. Remembering that 80% of ocean pollution comes from the land, the unfortunate result of this is the death of over 100,000 Marine Animals.
Reusable Bags vs Plastic
Among the “Boffins” (that’s people that know more than you or me), there are multiple arguments against the use of reusable cloth or paper bags versus plastic. Personally I find their arguments weak but that’s just my opinion. Apparently paper bags take more energy and more water to produce and would have to be used 3 times to every single use of a recycled plastic bag. A cotton bag again, uses more energy and more water than the production of a plastic bag and it is described as “an intense crop”, whatever that means. I happen to live in an area surrounded by cotton crops. A cotton bag needs to be used 131 times to equal the use of 1 recycled plastic bag. Now I’m not sure if these numbers pertain to production costs or profitability but I would much rather use my customized reusable bag 131 times just to avoid having an extra 131 plastic shopping bags. Plastic bags supposedly use “a little oil” and “a little energy” and poof – you have a plastic bag. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to make the 100 billion plastic bags used in the United States each year. Not just the logo imprinted grocery bags but the black bin liners, sandwich and freezer bags et al. The single use, easily discarded bags. Much too easily discarded. Did you know that the amount of oil it takes to make 14 plastic bags is the equivalent of the gas you would use to drive 1 mile? All of that and the average use of a plastic bag is a staggering 12 minutes!
There are numerous ways to recycle. In many places it is already mandatory to sort your household waste into separate bins for collection. I live in a rural community but am lucky enough to have a recycling center just down the road and most of our grocery stores have bins out front to drop off extra bags. It takes a little extra effort but it’s worth it. One ton of plastic bags can save 11 barrels of oil and if you squish them down you can fit about 50 to 100 plastic bags into a garbage bag to drop off. Now these bags need to be #2 or #4 polyethylene. The standard produce bags or grocery bags. Make sure to remove all of your receipts, stickers, crumbs and celery leaves. You know – at least make them empty.
Then in turn, those bags can be shipped off to companies that dice them up into tiny pieces and turn them into other products like new bottles and containers, plastic lumber, picnic tables and lawn furniture. Even playground equipment for the little ones!
What is the Answer?
I don’t profess to have all the answers here. I am ashamed to say that I am very late in coming to this conclusion in my life. The thought of one, just one, animal being found starved to death because a plastic bag was found clogging its intestinal tract saddens me beyond belief. Fish and birds constantly mistake the plastic littering the rivers and oceans for food. Cows have been found with up to 20 plastic bags in their stomachs! If, by using my customized reusable grocery bags (that have been used and abused and mended time and again), I can lessen the effect of damaging the countryside and hurting the wildlife, I will make the best of my reusable bags every time. I may just be one person but I am one among millions. Some will say that it’s not enough. Well at least it’s a step in the right direction.
Do you have any questions or ideas about reusable shopping bags, I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment in the section below and thank you for helping the planet!
– Dolly –
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