The plastic bag ban took place in California in 2014. California was the first state to pass legislature prohibiting stores from offering single use plastic bags. This was a huge step because other states have started to follow suit either by presenting their own versions of this legislation or by trying to get similar laws passed by their local governments. Actually, as of today, New York has become the second U.S. state to implement the same plastic bag ban. There are several other states still trying to get similar bills passed. It’s a big step towards becoming more environmentally friendly, but there are other points that should be considered when making the switch to reusable bags.
Plastic Bags for Purchase
There are still plastic bags available for purchase at most stores in California. These thicker plastic bags are more sturdy than their previous counterparts, however they are still made of plastic. For those of us that forgot our bags every time we went to the store in the beginning (we tried, we really did!), we ended up purchasing the newer thicker plastic bags offered by grocery stores at $.10 a pop. This is not to say that the thinner plastic bags are better, but the thicker plastic bags seem to be even worse because of the material. In order to make the newer, thicker plastic bags worth the switch, you must reuse them. I’ve seen statistics online that say you must use them at least 4 times to make the switch worth it, but I know for a fact that these guys will last for several more trips. Be sure to use these plastic bags as many times as possible to make sure they aren’t being disposed of as quickly as the thinner plastic bags. The thicker material makes them less susceptible to holes and also makes it easy to wipe them out if they get a little dirty. It’s not necessary to throw these out right away to opt for canvas or fabric bags. Create less waste in the beginning by using up what you currently have before giving them up entirely.
Plastic Produce Bags
While the plastic bag ban is great, for whatever reason the plastic produce bags are not banned. It’s easy to pile up in the produce department, using separate plastic bags for each variety of fruit and vegetable you’re purchasing. I’ve tried not using them in grocery stores and sometimes get irritated looks from the cashier when they realize all of my produce is floating around inside of my reusable bags. My tip for this, again, is to reuse the bags you already have before buying reusable produce bags. Bring them with you in your grocery tote and use them instead of pulling new ones in the produce department. Once they are no longer usable, you can purchase the netted, mesh or other fabric reusable produce bags (or make your own!). Want to make the switch right away? You can still reuse the produce bags you already have. They work great as dog poop bags, bathroom trash bags (or any other smaller trash cans), and I’ve even used them during travel to hold body wash or other liquids that may leak into my suitcase.
Reusable Tote Bags
The tote bag is a great swap for plastic bags. They can be used time and time again and can even sometimes become a cute accessory for those mundane grocery trips. Unfortunately, like every other fabric item, these things also take resources to make and to eventually dispose of. Again, make sure you are reusing your bags (plastic, canvas, fabric or otherwise) as many times as possible. This eliminates unnecessary waste and ensures that you’re not buying bags just because. Try not to overbuy these reusable bags simply for a cute pattern or because you get bored of your old ones. It can be easy to overload your pantry with reusable bags, but it’s really not doing any more good than the plastic bags if resources are being wasted to create and dispose of what’s taking their place. Try to use your existing bags as many times as possible before throwing them out or purchasing new ones to replace them.
It’s also important to remember to wash your reusable bags to keep you and your food safe from bacteria. This will also help with unsightly marks and stains that may deter your from using the bags as many times as possible. If you’re using the thicker plastic bags you can wipe them out with cleaner and if you’re using fabric or canvas you can throw them in the wash (hang dry them for an additional electricity savings). Also try to separate your tote bags by function. Save a few bags for groceries, a few for outings or other shopping trips and a couple for things that aren’t food related. Overall, you want to keep the bags separate to avoid any cross contamination. You wouldn’t want to keep a pair of dirty shoes in a bag you might later put tomatoes in.
Lastly, if you have to get new totes, try to buy bags that are made from recyclable or biodegradable materials. Several companies now offer totes made from eco-friendly materials such as recycled canvas or biodegradable hemp. You can often find tote bags at the thrift store as well. Overall, you want to be as environmentally conscious when purchasing the bags as you are when using them. Another useful sustainable tip is to upcycle old items such as t-shirts, pillow cases, old fabric, etc. into your new grocery bags. This method cuts down on waste but also saves money on buying new bags. I will try to do a separate post later this season on a few different projects you can easily do at home to make your own tote bags.
Overall the plastic bag ban is a great move for the planet. Reducing our plastic waste makes environmental sense as long as we’re doing it the right way. Always remember to use up what you own before hastily switching to something new. This can be the first and most important step in reducing waste in your own home.
Do your local stores still offer plastic bags? And if they do, do you use them or do you bring your own reusable bags? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,