Going Bag-LESS

Now that you have your first Everyday Eco-Habit under your belt, it's time to turn to Eco-Habit #2.  Don't worry – it's as simple as going Straw-LESS.  And, as with going Straw-LESS, Eco-Habit #2 will also help reduce single-use plastic – the theme of my first several posts.  So, without further ado, Eco-Habit #2!  This month, we’re focusing on going Bag-LESS, specifically going plastic Bag-LESS.  

How many plastic bags do you think you’ve received in your life?  I hadn't researched this in a while and what I discovered astounded me.  The average American family uses 1,500 plastic shopping bags per year!  You may remember from the research I shared last month on going Straw-LESS that plastic, because of its chemical composition, doesn’t biodegrade.  That means every.single.one. of those plastic bags is still on this earth.  One of those bags could be in the stomach of a sea turtle, sitting in a landfill, or piled up on a shore in Indonesia.  There is almost no place on earth that isn’t affected by plastics.  While plastic bags do photodegrade, or break down, from ultraviolet radiation from the sun, scientists estimate it can take up to 1000 years to do so.  Since plastic has only been around for roughly 50 years, no one is positive as to how long this may actually take.  What’s so ironic is these convenient bags are estimated to be used for an average of only 12 minutes!  According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags and plastic food wraps are used in the US in one year.  Yup, you heard that right- 380 BILLION!  

Plastic bags also take over 12 million gallons of oil to manufacture.  Since they are made from a combo of petroleum and natural gas, non-renewable resources, this contributes to greenhouse gases and climate change.  

Since plastic bags are so lightweight and abundant, they easily get carried by the wind and storm drains into habitats and waterways, creating big problems.  Our poor little sea turtles mistake these bags for sea jellies and ingest them.  First a straw up their nose, then eating plastic bags?!  No wonder six of the seven species of sea turtle are threatened or endangered.  It is estimated that 100,000 marine animals and 1 billion sea birds are harmed by plastics every year.  This sperm whale was found with almost 20 pounds of plastic in its stomach and is believed to have swallowed over 80 plastic bags.  Whales, along with myriad of other sea creatures, from seal pups to microscopic arrow worms, mistakenly eat plastics, especially plastics bags, for food.  These bags fill their stomachs and can’t pass through or break down, so they just sit.  And sit. And, since these animals feel full, they eventually starve to death.  Plastics not only affect the health of marine animals and birds but are toxic to humans.  They can adversely affect our metabolism, fertility, sexual function and general mood. Check out this interesting article to learn more about the human health problems associated with plastics. 

Ugh.  All of this can seem overwhelming. The good news is that, as with going Straw-LESS, the solution is SO simple: just bring your own reusable bag so you can go Bag-LESS. There are tons of cute, stylish, reusable bags for every occasion, including reusable produce bags you can use at your favorite grocery store or farmer's market. Don't know where to find one?  I have you covered.  Just click here to see some of my fav reusable shopping and produce bags! I even keep a compact reusable bag or two in my purse - like this one from My Green Friend LOVE Bags- so I’m never without one.  All this talk about plastic bags may have you wondering what to do about plastic snack bags and food wraps.  I have you covered here too – stay tuned for my upcoming post about going Plastic-LESS in the kitchen.    

Is it ok to use a paper bag instead of a plastic bag?  When it comes to the environment, the best thing to do is follow the 3Rs: many of you have heard them by now . . . REDUCE. REUSE. RECYCLE.  The 3Rs are in a very specific order for a reason.  The best thing to do when you can is reduce your use of something in the first place – that's why it's the first "R". When it comes to single-use bags, whether they are plastic or paper, if you don’t need one, just say "no-thank you."  If you need a bag, you move on to the second "R", Reuse, by using your own reusable bag.  As to the third "R", Recycling, it turns out recycling plastic bags is difficult, takes lots of energy, and doesn’t have a good return value. Unfortunately, you can’t just put them in your recycle bin and forget about them.  

So . . . are you ready to go Bag-LESS?  I promise it's easy.  Whether it's a reusable bag you buy from my fav's list, or one you got for free from a fair, this simple Eco-Habit of going Bag-LESS will have a positive impact on the way you choose to treat the environment.  Thank you for being on this journey to change your mindset to live more sustainably and create a healthier earth.   


Want to take it one step further?  Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Pledge to go plastic free.

  • Ask managers at your favorite stores to switch to a “bags on request” policy.

  • Talk to your local government to see if your area is plastic bag free. Many have local bans, and others have instituted a plastic bag tax. This seems to greatly reduce plastic bag usage by consumers. I mean, I see a lot more people bringing their reusable bags to Target since they started charging! In Ireland, where this fee was instituted in 2002, plastic bag usage has been decreased by about 90%. Over 40 countries around the world have banned plastic bags. China’s plastic bag usage has dropped 66% since it banned these thin bags in 2008. Kenya and Rwanda went so far as to make it illegal to use plastic bags. In Kenya, you can face 4 years in prison or a $38,000 fine!

  • Is your state plastic Bag-LESS? Check out this graphic from 5gyres to find out. Surfrider Foundation also has some great info on plastic bag ordinances and a list of cities with plastic bag bans. Want to learn how you can help move the dial for your state to become plastic Bag-LESS? Check out plasticbaglaws.org for more info on how to help make a positive change in your state.

  • Go completely plastic Bag-LESS, including snack bags and plastic wrap. Don’t fret, I will be showing you how to do so in a future post about going Plastic-LESS in your kitchen.