The Dangers of Plastic Bags: Be part of the solution, not the problem.

The Dangers of Plastic Bags: Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Stop a moment and think about the plastic in your life. For most Americans it’s not hard to find it in every room in your home.  As I’ve tried to liver a greener life, I’ve tried to slowly replace the plastic in our house for more sustainable options… but it isn’t always easy. For some, the idea of getting rid of all their plastic seems impossible. No matter what your situation, however, there are some simple things we all can do right now to make our world a safer, greener place. Of course I’m talking about plastic bags. Do you realize the dangers of plastic bags… or how simple it is to be part of the solution instead of the problem?

The Dangers of Plastic Bags

Most of us have seen the devastating and heart wrenching images of birds being terminally entangled by plastic bags. Of wildlife being overrun and littered with our garbage. Of the deaths of animals due to plastic bag ingestion.

[source]According to a World Wildlife Fund Report in 2005, nearly 200 different species of sea life including whales, dolphins, seals, and turtles die because of plastic bags.

Think about the magnitude of the problem: The United States Environmental Protection Agency released data that estimates between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. (source)

To make matters worse, most bag are not recycled because it costs more to recycle a bag than to produce a new one. In fact, according to Jared Blumenfeld, Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, it costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32. Not good economics, for sure. But does that mean we should just keep consuming more bags? Definitely not.

The dangers of plastic bags are real. Be part of the solution (it's really easy!)

Plastic bags are toxic to the environment.

Bags end up in landfills, oceans, seas, and lakes. They end up strangling animals, filling our sewer systems, and blowing throughout the environment.

In fact, according to the National Marine Debris Monitoring Program, plastic bags account for over 10 percent of the debris washed up on the U.S. coastline (source).

Unlike items that naturally biodegrade, plastic bags are made from polyethylene: a thermoplastic made from oil. Plastic bags photodegrade… meaning that over time the plastic breaks down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers (source). These contaminants  poison our soil and water and then enter our food chain. (Like we need more toxic chemicals in our food!)

Be part of the solution: It’s really easy.

In a world where it seems the problem is too big, it’s easy to wonder if one person can make a difference. But yes, YOU can.

If we trade out our plastic bags for reusable cloth bags the average person can save 6 bags a week.

That translates into 22,176 bags in the average life time.

If just 1 out of 5 people in our country did this we would save 1,330,560,000,000 bags over our life time. (source)

Other benefits of reusable bags

  • Because plastic bags are made from oil, reducing them would decrease foreign oil dependency.
  • We’d start preserving the thousands of marine animals and more than 1 million of birds who die from plastic bags each year.
  • Paper bags also pose a problem. Americans consume more than 10 billion paper bags per year which translates into approximately 14 million cut down trees… think of how reusable bags can save our trees.
  • We’ll also conserve water as paper production requires hundreds of thousands of gallons of water (not to mention the toxic chemicals involved in processing) (source).

Step one: Get reusable bags

The first step to helping this plastic bag crisis is to get your hands on some reusable bags. With so many options available, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Here are just some of the great finds that can help reduce waste, save animals, help our planet, and send a message that you want to help the problem, not perpetuate it.

It’s a small investment to give ourselves (and our children) a better future.

Grocery bags:

The dangers of plastic bags are real. Be part of the solution (it's really easy!)

Easy Fold Bag – Reusable Grocery Bags – 3 Pack

The dangers of plastic bags are real. Be part of the solution (it's really easy!)

Deluxe Organic Cotton Grocery Bag with Bottle Sleeves

The dangers of plastic bags are real. Be part of the solution (it's really easy!)

Organic Cotton Muslin Produce Bags

Produce bags:

The dangers of plastic bags are real. Be part of the solution (it's really easy!)

ChicoBag Mesh/rePETe (Recycled PET) Reusable Produce Bags (Set of 3)

 

The dangers of plastic bags are real. Be part of the solution (it's really easy!)

Organic Cotton Mesh Produce Bags

 

The dangers of plastic bags are real. Be part of the solution (it's really easy!)

flip and tumble Set of 5 Reusable Produce Bags

Step two: Have a plan

The second step is to have a plan to remember to use your reusable bags. I bought my first set of reusable bags several years ago and I probably remembered to use them one out of every ten trips. Bad job, Robin. Bad.

Here are some tips to help you remember your reusable bags:

  • Keep them in your car.
  • As soon as you bring up your bags from the store put them next to your car keys (to take with you next time you go to your car) and put them back immediately.
  • Put them someplace where you’ll see them so they don’t get lost in your trunk.
  • Put your reusable bags on your shopping list. As you check your list for the week you’ll see your reminder to take your bags with you.
  • Set a reminder on your phone.
  • Stick a little reminder on the door.
  • Stick a little reminder on your steering wheel.

Do whatever it takes to get in the habit of using the bags. The dangers of plastic bags are real. The solution, however, it quite simple. It just takes us to make the commitment and change.

What do you think? Do you use reusable bags? What helps you remember to use them?

 

The dangers of plastic bags are real. Be part of the solution (it's really easy!)

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About the author

Hi! I'm and I’m passionate about healthy living: feeling nourished, having energy, getting good sleep, and feeling strong. I believe healthy living does not have to be complicated or stressful. I’m a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT) and a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA). I’m also an avid researcher and love to read about nutrition, the body, and toxic-free living. Learn more.

View all articles by Robin Konie

29 comments

  1. Kitty

    I love the idea of reusable bags but I only find myself using them for picking up produce at the farmer’s market or for small grocery trips. Otherwise, when buying a lot of groceries I would need a dozen to hold all the items! :/


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      I’m amazed at how much the bags hold. I’ll place similar produce items in one bag and then just take them out when I go through checkout and rebag them. It’s really not too bad. In fact, I just got back from a shopping trip and had more than enough room for my produce using my three produce bags. :)

  2. Jackie

    I love my Envirosaxs. http://www.envirosax.com/ They hold twice as much volume as a plastic grocery sac, up to 40lbs and roll up to be the size of a stick of deodorant. I have them in my purse all the time and have given many as gifts! I regularly test out the weight max when I am buying multiple bags of flour, blocks of cheese, etc. They have held up beautifully through years of use!

  3. Moira

    I do those things but still haven’t figured out what to use for garbage bags (small and large).


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      Yeah, that’s something I’m still trying to figure out. I think having a compost bin, recycling what you can, and just aiming for less trash is the first step there.

      1. TAnk

        cat poop. It’s the only reason I take a plastic bag at a store (and only when I need another for said reason otherwise I use my reusables). I don’t know if composting cat poop is a thing that’s even ok or not, but I can’t compost on my rental property anyway.

        Does anyone have any ideas about how to deal with cat poop without resorting to plastic bags? I would love to be rid of them entirely.

        1. Chandra S

          It shouldn’t be composted, even if you weren’t renting. We use a wheat based litter (SWheat Scoop) and we can flush our cat litter down the toilet. We had to try a few different litters before we found one that Mr. FinickyBuns would use, but there are several out there.

  4. Amanda

    You could always make your own bags from old t shirts or other unused fabric! I crochet mine! There are also reusable bags that roll into themselves and are keychain sized! You would be surprised how easy it is to stuff a bag in your purse and go! I also carry a thermal tote for cold items and store all the other bags inside so I’m only carrying 1 bag. I grocery shop once a week or so and 4 reusable bags replaces about 20 plastic bags where I shop. Some stores will even give you discounts for bringing your own bags. I don’t know who all does but the Exchange (military store) offers $0.05 off for every bag you use!


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      Love it! I’ve seen some things like this on Pinterest. Sadly, my skills in sewing and crochet are miserable, at best. :)

  5. Katheryn

    What do you use for garbage can liners? Anything? I have reusable grocery bags, but don’t always use them because I use the grocery sacks in my garbage cans.


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      We still have quite the stash of plastic bags from “before my reusable bag” conversion. We use them as liners, too. Although, once our stash is gone (which will probably be fairly soon), I may just use nothing in my smaller cans and still use garbage bags in my larger. Then I’ll just dump the smaller cans into the larger when it’s time to take out the trash. So many cities require that their garbage is bagged, unfortunately. Wish there was a better alternative.

  6. Moira

    There do seem to be some biodegradable bags in large and small sizes available and I believe the price is coming down so we can actually afford them. I also hope they don’t start to biodegrade before they are picked up by the garbage truck! Here are a few I have found:

    http://www.mnn.com/your-home/at-home/blogs/a-green-trash-bag-that-hangs-tough

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005HZLJJO/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=1535523702&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B002PNMRJM&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1EK7PQZTWB2A5TRJ04RY

    http://www.interplas.com/trash-bags/eco-friendly-trash-bags

    http://www.costco.com/Stout-EcoSafe-Biodegradable-Compost-Green-Trash-Bags-13-gal-45ct-STO-E2430E85.product.11504750.html

    http://www.canadiantire.ca/AST/browse/8/KitchenBath/KitchenStorage/GarbageBags/PRDOVR~0429752P/Likewise+Compostable+Garbage+Bags%2C+16.7+x+17.5-in.jsp?locale=en

  7. Tawnya

    I pay my kids a nickel each (they are young enough to think that’s cool) if they bring their set of 3 bags into the car for our shopping trips. I am running out of loose change, but am reminded by them to use our cloth bags.

  8. brieana-leigh

    Those are some great and helpful reminders! I love using reusable grocery bags but I probably use them a quarter of the time because I ALWAYS forget them!! I’m definitely going to use your pointers. Thanks! :)


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      I really think it’s the hardest part… remembering them! Because, let’s be honest, reusable bags are not the expensive and are fun. :)

  9. Carol Ann

    We don’t have a car so we each have a rucksack, both of us keep extra cloth bags and some thermal bags in the rucksack. I also have a shopping trolley, a bit like a luggage carrier that opens at the top for bigger items or larger quantities. As we do most of our shopping trips on foot this works really well for us!

  10. Kate

    When we go shopping, all the bags (ranging anywhere from small crocheted t-shirt produce bags to the large, icky plasticky material Viagra bag) are stuffed into one another and stuck int eh front seat (with me). This way we don’t forget them, and I give something for the boys to laugh at when I get tangled up and fall out of the truck. I’ve also been know to reuse the plastic bags (I like bringing other store bags to the town grocer just to show I’m not happy with their prices) or crochet them into a NEW bag.

  11. karen

    If we could find a use for used cat litter that would be awesome, I was told that if you put it out in the yard out of the way eventually you would just be left with a pile of clay. I have four cats and two of them are old and use a box. That would make us truly independent

  12. Sarah @ Politically Incorrect Health

    What do you do about trash bags? I only have a small trash can in my kitchen and use the plastic bags for garbage (it is expensive for small trash can bags, as often as I take the trash out). I am reusing them or returning them to somewhere like Publix, where they recycle them. Most of the time, I do use my cloth bags for groceries.


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      Garbage bags are tough since many cities require you to bag your garbage. Using a compost bin for any organic material, cutting back on plastic, and really compacting trash can at least help use reduce our waste.

  13. cassia

    putting them on the shopping list… brilliant. putting groceries in them while you shop, then unloading at the checkout… also brilliant. glad you shared these ideas! (and the info, as always!)

  14. Reilly

    Thrift stores are a great place to find cheap reusable bags, in fact I just bought some last week for 59 cents each.

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