As an avid pack rat, it doesn’t surprise me that I have a plethora of cloth bags. I jumped on the reusable bag trend many years back and at this moment, I can find (key word: find) 27 fabric bags in my family’s possession (not including backpacks). I didn’t know at the time I started my bag collection that our society uses an estimated 50 billion to one trillion plastic bags annually, or about one million a minute. Sadly, our society also views this type of packaging as very easy to dispose.
Recently, my boys and I trekked down a little urban woodland stream in the middle of a Cincinnati suburb in search of clay. We found clay and also found many, many plastic bags embedded in tree roots and worked into the base and banks of the stream. I know it is not uncommon to find plastic litter in nature, but somehow in that moment it felt blatantly obvious how many people must not see that these bags don’t just float away. In fact, it takes about a thousand years for a plastic shopping bag to break down into small enough pieces of plastic that one can pretend it is gone.
I wonder, what would that number of bags used per minute be if we included paper bags in that count? While most reusable bag propaganda focuses on only the perils of plastic bags, there is also a negative environmental impact of using paper bags, although it does seem on the surface that their footprint is a tad smaller. While a paper bag will actually decompose moderately easily, the raw materials (mainly trees) and energy used to create them could be used better. Although both types of bags are reuseable, creating a system that works for you and your family to cut back on this type of packaging is, in my opinion, a fantabulous choice.
There are so many options for reducing single-use bags. Since I seem to have a mild bag obsession and am the Sundries buyer for the Co-op (which includes reusable bags), I can tell you about my experiences with them.
I think the most common bag that people think of as a reusable shopping bag is probably some form of a canvas bag. These typically work well for bagging because they usually stand up somewhat until you can get some walls built up with goods. They are also very durable. Usually you will find the Co-op-label canvas bag and the Acorn Bags (Forest, Sea Turtle and Sea Birds) at Register 4. The Acorn bags are made of a blend of 80% pre-consumer waste recycled cotton and soda bottles.
The Co-op has carried the string bags from Eco-Bags for sometime now. While not always my favorite to bag for package-type goods, I really prefer to carry my produce home in mine. They are also excellent for sending swimsuits and towels with your kids when you pawn them off for a day. Some have both the short and long handles, some one or the other. Some are made of organic cotton (check the labels).
My recent multi-use favorite bags are from ChicoBags. These are the nylon bags that scrunch up into their own little stuff sack. I have found these cuties to be sort of a transition to the next step of reusable bags for me. While I’ve always felt comfortable grabbing my probably dirty canvas bag stuffed to the rim with a portion of my aforementioned bag collection to the Co-op, I would not feel that same comfort bringing along my tote of totes to Target (purchaser of 1.8 billion plastic bags a year), Walgreens or any of the other more mainstream establishments where I occasionally shop. Somehow these, if I can remember to grab a couple, do not make me feel awkward about bringing my own bag.
Until recently, we have only carried one style ChicoBag (cleverly named: Original) and fabric type (nylon). We now are happy to offer these handy little bags in many shapes and sizes, and more than half of the styles we carry are each made of a minimum of 85% recycled materials. The first “alternative” style I got to try out was the sling, and I like it when I am trying to make one trip from the car trunk or bike trailer up to my kitchen with a weeks worth of food as I carry it over my shoulder. I like using this one for shopping at conventional stores and it also has served well as the library bag while on the bikes. They make a messenger bag and backpacks (two sizes each), a water bottle carrier and many varieties on the standard shopping bag.
Variations of cotton sacks (which digressing further, also work great for some grains in the bulk is aisle) have been available for purchase in the produce section before, but now we also offer a line of ChicoBags that are fabric-specific for different types of produce. The hemp-cotton blend bag is 70% hemp/30% cotton and is designed to absorb excess moisture and restrict airflow making it good for leafy greens and green beans. The rePETe bag is great for squash, broccoli, carrots and celery because it restricts airflow and locks in moisture. The mesh rePETe (made of 99% recycled content) is ideal for apples, oranges, potatoes, onions and allows ethylene gas, nature’s ripening agent, to escape. A starter kit is available.
Global Mamas is a non-profit and fair trade organization assisting women in Africa in becoming economically independent. All of our batik-dyed bags (shopping, wallets, diaper and yoga) are from them as well as the flour sack shopping and messenger type bags. They also make cloth napkins and aprons. I like that the person who makes each item signs the tag.
Malia Designs brings us those plastic fish food bag bags. These are made from the bags that fish farms receive their fish food in. Because these bags are made of this reused plastic, they are easy to wipe clean and stand up to bagging. The two messenger bags and the computer case seem pretty popular, but I love my gigantic laundry bags. These hold one-plus week’s worth of laundry or two sleeping bags and a couple pillows. Malia is also Fair Trade certified and supports women and small family producers in developing nations. Portions of Malia’s proceeds go to aid victims of human trafficking, and focus on supporting economic opportunities in areas most affected by this multi-billion dollar illegal, and often ignored, trade.
3greenmoms has recently brought us an alternative to plastic baggies. Although I wash out my sandwich and kid snack baggies, hanging them to dry on chopsticks sticking out of my plants, I know it’s easy to toss them when I’m feeling lazy. Sadly though, this adds up, with about 20 million sandwich bags a day from the U.S. alone ending up in landfills. Lunch Skins are one alternative for transporting some items and are made from a pastry fabric that can stand being tossed in the dishwasher. I have not gotten to try these yet, and at about eight bucks a piece, I can sense my own apprehension and excuses getting ready to fly. My kids are going to know for sure, up and down, that these are to come back home! It is sometimes hard to rationalize that while I can get a box of plastic baggies for about $4 and get at least 60 uses out of that box, that the cost of these baggies is actually higher although maybe not in a direct monetary way. We have been spoiled by plastic’s low costs, durability and ability to seal.
Increasing your reduction in single-use bags doesn’t have to just mean a big, dependable canvas bag or backpack any more. There are choices and finding the bag or bags you won’t want to forget is key to cutting back on single-use bags. Try a couple out to see what fits you. Maybe someday you’ll even be ready to venture out using them to carry purchases other than food!