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Eco-status Symbol

How to get your own and use it with pride

Think of utilizing reusable bags as an eco-status symbol, similar to driving a hybrid or having solar panels on your house.  Everyone in the grocery line and anyone that passes you on the way to your car will notice your bags.  I feel a great sense of pride at this moment.  I know that I am playing a small part in saving the planet and reducing our dependence on oil.

Why Plastic is Bad

It is estimated that Americans use 100 billion plastic shopping bags a year (The Wall Street Journal) and it takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the bags.  Besides using a scarce and expensive resource, discarded plastic bags often end up in streams, rivers, beaches and eventually oceans becoming a hazard to wildlife.  In fact 10% of the plastic produced every year worldwide ends up in the ocean and 70% finds its way to the ocean floor where it will likely never degrade.  (UN 2006)  Approximately, 100,000 whales, seals, turtles, and birds die from plastic bags each year (World Wildlife Fund), deaths that are so easily avoidable.

Using reusable bags for your groceries seems like it should be an easy change to make, but since it requires modifying a long standing habit it can be difficult to put into practice.  It is worth persevering though because this change has a large environmental impact.  If you go to the grocery store once a week and average 5 bags per trip you will acquire 260 plastic bags in a year.  That figure quickly rises if your items are double bagged and if you get produce.  And then there are the bags from convenience stores, pharmacies, and other stores.  According to the World Wildlife Fund, the average American uses 350 plastic bags per year - you can see how they can add up quickly.

How to Change

As a first step, buy two or three reusable bags.  Most grocery stores now have reusable bags for sale.  Make sure that you like the style before you buy more.  Personally, I like the large, stiff plastic bags that SuperFresh/Acme sells.  They are made of recycled content, have both short and long straps, and they hold a lot of groceries.  I then have several cloth bags for fruit and vegetables.

Your best chance of actually using these bags is to leave them in your car.  If I forget to bring them into the store I buy new ones there as a ‘punishment’ to myself.  It doesn’t cost me much to buy more and this action tends to make an impression in my brain for the next time that I am shopping. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Another suggestion is to initially put all of your fruit in one bag(s) and your veggies in another bag(s).  If you are a big produce eater that should save you 3 to 5 produce bags per trip to the grocery store.  Your check-out person may get annoyed that they need to sort through the fruit and vegetables to weigh them, but you will feel comfort in the fact that you are using less bags.

When you are ready to invest a bit more in your reusable bags, purchase bags that are designed specifically for fruits and vegetables.  Chico Bags have a great line of bags that are made for various types of produce.  With these bags you can put just one type of fruit or vegetable in the bag and the check-out person will not need to take them out of the bag to weigh them.  The bags are designed to go right into the refrigerator, but I take the fruit or vegetables out as we usually eat them quickly.

Checking Out

When in the check-out line, I put my bags down first to pre-empt the check-out person from putting my purchases into a plastic bag.  At the grocery store I find that they usually take my bags right away and start filling them.  But at other stores, such as a drug store, I often have to say several times ‘I have my own bag’.  It is funny to see how check-out people are often in remote control mode and don’t hear what I am saying at first.

I think you will find that you will end up using less bags than today as most baggers seem to only put 4 or 5 items in each bag.  I am also often amazed when the check-out person feels the need to separately wrap fish and meat even though especially the fish is already double wrapped.

Things to remember:

  • Buy your first set of bags and try them out. If you don’t like them, try others. Keep going until you find a good fit.
  • Leave the bags in your car. I put mine in the back pocket of my car seat.
  • If you forget your bags and you don’t want to buy new ones, remember to recycle the ones you used.
  • When you come home and unpack your groceries, remember to put your bags back in your car or near the door.