Previously I listed 5 insanely easy New Year’s goals for families who are newer to green living.
However, some of you are likely ready for some harder challenges during the upcoming year, so I also posted some green goals for more experienced eco-families. Always using reusable bags are one such challenge.
Always using reusable bags is one small step that actually makes a huge impact. For one thing, once you get the hang of it, carrying reusable bags is an ongoing skill that will last a lifetime, thus increasing your impact as the years go on. Secondly, as I’m sure you’ve heard, disposable bags are anything but pretty for the planet. Reuseit notes the following problems with disposable bags.
- About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
- A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
- Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse.
- Of all the plastic bags in the world, only about .5% to 3% of them get recycled.
- Plastic bags cost retailers about $4 billion annually, which yeah, is likely one reason why grocery costs are soaring upwards.
- When plastic bags (or any plastics for that matter) break down, they don’t biodegrade; they break down to smaller fragments which soak up toxins and then they contaminate soil, waterways and animals upon digestion.
- Paper bags aren’t any better, and may in fact be worse. Not only do paper bags eat away whole forests but they generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags. Plus, although easy to recycle, only 10 to 15% of paper bags are ever recycled. Worse, although it seems like paper would biodegrade in a landfill, new research shows that almost nothing degrades in a landfill, so you’re still creating long-lasting trash with paper bags.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg too – to view all the icky facts about reusable bags head over to Reuseit.
My experience with reusable bags
One day, almost 10 years ago or so, I decided to step up my green living routine a notch and ban disposable bags from my life. I bought a set of eight ACME Totes with Dual Handles (in recycled cotton), along with some reusable produce bags and started using them.
“Started using” is the operative term. It was slow going. It’s hard to remember to always take reusable bags in your car. Then once you get to the store, it’s hard to remember to take them in. Then you have to deal with clerks who hate your bags on top of that.
How long did this goal take to accomplish?
It took my family about four or five months from the time we made the decision to ban reusable bags to get to the point where we’d always used them. Not exceedingly long, but this did take longer than some other green goals I’ve taken on.
Now we’re like reusable bag pros. I haven’t personally (that I can remember) brought a disposable bag home in over two years. It’s just second nature now – when going out, grab bags.
It depends on the type of bags you buy and how many bags you need. Over two years ago, it cost me about $50 0r $60 for a set of 8 bags and some produce bags. I haven’t invested a penny since, and my bags are still in excellent shape, minus a few holes I need to sew up in three of them.
Which bags are best?
The type of reusable bags you purchase do matter. If you buy cheap bags, well, you get cheap bags. Most of those store-brand reusable bags you see cost a lot (for as many as you’ll need) and break down quickly. It’s MUCH better to spend the money now on one amazing set of reusable bags that you’ll have for years. In fact, in another post, I figured out that I’ve saved $80 over five years by purchasing quality bags vs. cheap store-brand bags. Here are some tips…
Buy fabric, not plastic (polyester) reusable bags. The downside is that fabric bags aren’t waterproof, but that’s almost never affected my family. The upside is that they’ll be usable after their lifespan as a bag is done. For example, bags made of polyester or other synthetic materials can only be used as bags. Bags made of hemp, cotton, or another fabric can be cut down and used as cleaning cloths, thus extending their life up until they practically disintegrate away. Also, cloth bags can be washed, which is a huge perk. Still, synthetic bags are crazy better than disposable bags.
Look for strong handles. Not all bag handles are made the same and also not all family members carry bags the same. For example, I carry reusable bags on my shoulder, but my boyfriend and son tend to carry their bags with their hands via the handles. Luckily I have dual handled bags, meaning the bags have both long and short handles. I LOVE dual handles because it also makes the bags just that much stronger.
Seriously, don’t buy white bags. I own brown bags and a few black ones. Thank goodness too, because these dark bags, even though they’re washed all the time, show some stains. If they were white, I’m pretty sure they’d look insanely gross by now.
Buy enough bags. I bought eight original bags, but also companies have sent me some to review and Dave has a few bags as well. All in all we’ve got five family members and around 15 reusable bags. That’s just about as many as we use too. We use about 4-8 on an average real (major) shopping trip. Plus my son uses them to cart stuff to school or to friend’s houses. Sometimes we lose them around the house or in a car. We also tend to have some in the laundry at any given time. All that said, buy a few more bags than you think you’ll need.
If you’re not sure how many you’ll need, use this calculation – take a look at a normal to large grocery trip and see how many bags you brought home. Most decent reusable bags can carry as much as two plastic bags. So, if you brought home 14 plastic bags, you’ll need about 7 reusable bags. THEN add three more bags for good measure. In total, for this situation, you’d need 10 reusable bags.
Tips for success!
As noted above, we’re pretty much reusable bags pros now. However, when we first got started, it was tough for a while. Here’s what we did while we waited for reusable bags to become second nature…
- I made a sign, “Bring your bags!” and hung it on the garage door, so I’d see it when going to the car.
- I left some bags in the car and some in my house. When I’d bring groceries inside, I’d make myself take some of the house bags out to the car. This way I always had bags in the car.
- I left a sticky note in my car that said, “Bring in your bags!” because often, I’d leave them in the car.
- I NEVER left bags in the trunk. Usually I set them on the passenger seat or with my son in the back. The trunk makes it too easy to forget.
- The best thing I did during our transition from disposable bags to reusable bags was I put my son Cedar in charge of remembering the bags. Cedar was 7 years old at the time and took on the bags like a pro. I told him, “You’re in charge of remembering the bags when we go to the store! Can you help me with that?!” He took on this responsibility with full force and he’s likely one of the main reasons we accomplished this goal in five months, not a year. If you’ve got a kid I highly suggest putting them on bag duty.
- Don’t forget – reusable bags should go with you to the mall, the pet store and everywhere else too. Don’t take them to the grocery store, then gather plastic bags elsewhere.
Common trouble spots and Q&A:
What about lead in reusable bags? Lead has only been found in cheap store-brand reusable bags. Again, buy quality bags to avoid any issues.
Don’t reusable bags harbor deadly diseases? If you’re nervous because you think reusable bags harbor icky germs, guess what, you’re probably right to worry. You can’t carry around reusable anything forever, without it picking up some germs. Here’s an idea the plastic council will hate – wash your bags! Wow right? If you can’t wash them, don’t buy them, because they’re not a smart reusable bag choice. We wash clothing. We wash water bottles. And yeah, we should wash bags – problem solved.
Is this a good goal for me if I DO recycle all my plastic bags. Recycling is good, but still energy intensive and costly. Also, almost all disposable bags on earth are made in part, or in whole, with non-renewable resources and toxic chemicals. Plus, while almost everyone I meet says, “Hey, I recycle my bags” someone has to be confused, because study after study, even by organizations in favor of plastic bags and paper bags, show that only an extremely small amount of bags ever make it to a recycling plant. I’m not so sure all the many people who claim to be recycling actually are. You can’t beat the perks of using reusable bags over disposable, even if you recycle.
What about rude store clerks? Ignore them. Many clerks have given me reusable bag grief, from long sighs to full-blown speeches about how I’ve single handily ruined their day and their packing grocery groove. Mainly I think clerks like this are obnoxious, but whatever. Usually I frequent the same stores, so it’s easy enough to seek out clerks I know are cool about reusable bags.
Awesome reusable bag choices
The bags I have are the reuseit Dual-Handled Tote, Recycled Cotton bags, which right now I believe are closing out for under $9 a bag. They’re available in black, and I can’t say enough good things about them. They’re strong, long-lasting and have perfect handles for the whole family.
reuseit Dual Handled Lightweight Hemp Tote Reusable Shopping Bag Set which includes 3 reuseit Lightweight Hemp Totes, 4 Reusable Produce Bags, and set of 2 reuseit Produce Savers. These bags look a little too lightweight to me, but if you’re a light shopper, this may be the perfect set.
Organic hemp tote set – includes 3 Organic Hemp Totes, 4 Organic Cotton Muslin Produce Bags, and a set of 2 reuseit Produce Savers.
reuseit Reusable Shopping Bag Sampler Set – good if you’re not sure what bags to get. This set comes with 6 bags, including best-selling reusable shopping bags 2 reuseit Bluesign Workhorses, 2 reuseit Earth Totes and 2 reuseit Hemp Totes.
As for produce bags, I’ve tried both reuseit Produce & Snack Bag, Organic Cotton Muslin and the reuseit Produce and Snack Bag, Organic Cotton Net and I like the cotton net ones better. The muslin bags didn’t hold up as well and the strings came out easily. Plus they didn’t stay closed well. The net ones have been way better.
Now, while I like fabric bags better, if you’d like to go with synthetic material bags, I’ve used and personally liked reuseit Workhorse bags. The Workhorse bags hold up extremely well and carry a ton of stuff. I’m not crazy about the workhorse handles, but my son likes them.
I’ve also not used, but heard very good things about Envirosax Shopping Bags. They look smallish to me, but they are hyper cute and affordable, plus I’ve heard they last a long time. Also, Envirosax used to carry simple polyester bags, but now they’ve got organic and recycled bags as well.
To sum up
This is a great challenging New Year’s goal to take on for 2011. It’s hard but really, quite doable with constant practice. After about a half a year, you won’t even remember or miss disposable bags at all.If you have any questions, post them in the comments and I’ll try to help you out.