Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reducing the number of disposable bags in my life

As part of my frugal and green lifestyle (with some training by my ever-practical Mom), the plastic bags I receive from various stores are reused for lining trash cans or carrying lunch or various other uses. The bags have never gone into the trash immediately. I am disappointed that I cannot recycle them in my curbside program, but stores like Wal-mart do have bins to collect plastic bags for recycling so there are options.

It is quite easy to accumulate more plastic bags than one person needs. Even with carrying cat waste from the basement to the toilet in my house for flushing does not get rid of them easily. When I complained to friends that I was almost out of plastic bags, I received donations from others. And then I found another stash that I had forgotten about. Between these two supplies, I will not need plastic bags for months.

After reading about plastic bags are made from a nonrenewable resources, how they do not degrade in the environment, how animals eat the bags and die and just the sheer number of bags consumed by the world (see this site for more information), I decided to reduce the number of bags I used. This reduction decision also included paper bags. While they are made from renewable resources, converting trees to paper bags involves use of a lot of energy and chemicals, both which are known negatively affect the environment.

To reduce the number of plastic bags I consume, I refuse one at checkout especially if there are only a few items that I can carry in my hands. I received a cotton tote as a gift when I was in Germany and I have used that for carrying items instead using a new plastic bag. The cotton bag folds up for easy carrying in my purse and holds the same amount as an average plastic bag. I like refusing a bag and packing my own items in the reusable bag. Of course, the last time I was in Walgreens, I was saddened by the lack of a plastic bag. Their small bag fits my bathroom trash can perfectly.

For my once monthly grocery shopping, I have also brought back the paper bags in which the food was packed. Most of the baggers were amenable to using them, but I think one was so used to his routine, I ended up with a few new bags. Still, I have enough to last me a while (I use them for paper recycling and to line the plastic kitchen garbage bag) and for the forseeable future, I am not adding to the number.

I have just made my first purchase of eight reusable hemp totes and four cotton produce bags and am looking forward to their delivery. I had not realized how many plastic bags I pick up in one shopping trip until I was at the grocery story last night. Between the produce and the meat, I picked up five new bags. It will take me two weeks to reuse them, but I plan on reusing the produce bags for the next grocery trip. Unfortunately, my grocery store does not offer an incentive for reusing bags, but the issue of disposable bags is important enough that I will continue to reuse bags or bring my own cotton or hemp bags for all my shopping needs.

Think about what happens to the grocery or shopping bags you receive next time you are in the store. Do you need another bag? Or can you leave some in your car and ask the baggers to reuse them instead of giving you a new one? While some plastic bags find new life as a trash can liner, do you reallly need to pick up five new liners every week when doing grocery shopping? With petroleum becoming more scarce, think about other ways to reduce the use of this nonrenewable resource.

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