Shopping without Plastic Bags: 5 Simple Strategies

Reducing the need for single use plastic bags is a great effort for the planet. And it’s a simple change too, especially if you live in a city or state that has just banned plastic bags (thank you California and Honolulu). Swapping out plastic bags for reusable grocery bags can save 100 billion single-use plastic bags a year, and it can save your favorite grocery stores and YOU money. Shopping without plastic bags can eliminate the need for creation of single use plastics, made from fossil-fuel based plastic and chemicals, and helps keep our ocean and land ecosystems cleaner. Living without plastics bags (and all plastics) is an admirable goal for us all! reusable shopping bagBut in case you’re not yet convinced that plastic bags are a disaster for our environment, here are some facts from ReuseIt:

  • Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily
  • About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
  • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
  • More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008.
  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
  • Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts.
  • Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
  • Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.

Guys, these facts are disgusting! Now onto the good stuff: easy strategies for living and shopping without plastic bags.

1. Reusable bags are NOT full of germs to contaminate your food. Well, turns out that that heavily publicized study showing that plastic bags are the safer options was actually funded by oil lobbyists, and it was later debunked. There are NO germy consequences for choosing reusable bags over plastic, unless you are buying germy foods (like bacteria-laden, factory-farmed meats, which are notoriously contaminated). If you do have any meat, dairy, or other potentially germy foods, most bags can be tossed into the washing machine.

2. But it’s so hard to remember your bags! Ok, even a dedicated green nerd like me recycled, reusage, remember-able Chico bag.forgets sometimes. The trick is to have them stashed in places where you know you will need a bag. Do you drive to work? Leave a few bags in your car for errands on the way home. Always do some shopping on your lunch break? Keep a bag stashed in your desk. If you’re a bike commuter or work from home, keep bags stashed in your purse or backpack. Some even cinch down and can clip to your keychain. Easy, right? Just don’t forget to put them back after you use them.

3. Choose bags that are natural and built to last. Jute, cotton, or recycled bags are the way to go. Not only are these made from natural materials (or recycled, like Chico bags), and generally better for the environment, they are washable. So if your strawberry jam or spicy yellow mustard spills, you can give it a quick wash and it’s ready to go. They also tend to last longer than others. The cheapy reusable bags given out (often for free) at larger stores can be made from recycled materials, but they have a tendency to fall apart after too many uses. And while the available information is a bit fuzzy, my guess is that they are not quite as eco-friendly as many claim to be.

Bea_Johnson_with_glass_jars.JPG.662x0_q100_crop-scale
shopping with jars is awesome (but heavy).

4. Reusable or reused bulk bags or jars. We purchased these simple cotton bulk bags and love them. True, they work better for some food that others (rice, beans, coffee- yes; shredded coconut, nutritional yeast, or quinoa- a big, messy no). We can’t use them for everything, so when we do have to use small plastic bulk bags we make sure to keep them for future bulk purchases. Our trick: every time a bulk bag is finished, we hide it inside the reusable grocery bags so that it cannot be forgotten. If you are feeling super strong, you can also bring your refillable jars to the grocery store to refill with rice, beans, grains and spices. This is a trick that my partner uses, but I think it makes the grocery shopping just too heavy. Try it to see if it works for you!

5. Think beyond groceries: Why not carry around a few bags everywhere with you? Sure, it’s a bit unconventional to take your thrift store clothes, toiletries, or to-go lunch in a reusable bag, but why not start the trend? I’m not going to lie, stashing my new clothes into reusable bags always gets a weird look, but who really cares? You know you’re doing the right thing, and hopefully it will inspire others to think beyond the plastic.

{Read more: how to live a plastic-free life}

Bonus: You get money for using reusable bags. Sometimes stores will reward you for using your own shopping bags. Maybe it’s five cents, maybe ten. This might not seem like a lot, but if I grocery shop each week with an average of three reusable bags per trip, that equals 30 cents a week. All together, just grocery shopping discounts add up to over $15. That’s two pints of Coconut Bliss ice cream, and that makes it totally worth it!

So get shopping: you can get reusable shopping bags in every color, shape, and size. Let’s start reducing that 1 million plastic bag a minute statistic right now!

 

 

shopping bag images from Shutterstock; shopping with jars image from Treehugger

About the Author

A vegan chef, cookbook author, educator, writer, surfer, and yogi based in San Francisco, Andrea is also the Accounts Manager for Important Media. Follow her foodie adventures at AndreaBertoli.com, Vibrant Wellness Journal, Green Living Ideas and Eat Drink Better. Find more from Andrea on Facebook and Instagram
  • bensmagginolia

    good post. I have been using reusable bags for several years now. I even used the mesh bags back in the 1970s. wish I could find some of them now. I have a large insulated bag that I carry the other small insulated bags in plus the cloth bags for other groceries. carrying reusable bags all the time is a good idea. I will put a few of the fold up bags in my backpack to have with me. thanks for the info.

  • Carlos Alvarez

    Hi Andrea: this is a great article that helps anyone shop without plastic bags.

    Plastic bags are so hurtful for our environment and they simply get tossed after a 20 minute car trip! They take forever to decompose and are pretty hard to recycle. Shopping without plastic bags should be the norm.